A new meta-analysis suggests a positive link between depression and low back pain, which could lead to more effective treatments for pain. According to the analysis, patients who suffer from depression have an increased risk of developing new episodes of low back pain; furthermore, patients with more severe depression have a correspondingly greater risk.
The meta analysis included data from 11 different studies; the combined data showed that those with symptoms of depression had a 60% higher chance of also experiencing new back pain, compared to patients who do not suffer from depressive symptoms.
Some of the studies even revealed that patients with low levels of depression still had an increased risk of pain episodes, almost 50% higher. And among the studies that did include the severity of depression, patients with the most severe depressive symptoms experienced a 2.5-times risk increase.
The increased risk profile was similar whether the symptoms were diagnosed by a doctor or self reported by the patient.
Back pain experts say treating comorbidities like depression could increase the effectiveness of treatments for pain overall. The meta-analysis authors also suggested that older patients had a higher correlation between depression and lower back pain. That’s because of the increased risk of disability that comes with lower back pain in aging patients.
And unfortunately, the link works both ways. Doctors have long known that in some cases lower back pain can cause depression, too.
The analysis’ investigators also suggested a possible cause of the link.
“These conditions share common biological pathways and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine,” according to the meta-analysis.
In fact, geriatric specialists say that certain antidepressants might effectively treat both conditions simultaneously, although more research is needed to confirm any new treatments for pain.
More than 26 million Americans under the age of 64 suffer from chronic back pain every year, and it is the most common cause of disability in younger Americans.