Mental Issues May Lead to Chronic Pain in Teens

New research finds that a surprising number of young people have experienced chronic pain and a mental disorder.

European researchers analyzed data from around 6,500 teenagers from the USA and discovered that more than 25 percent of the study participants reported pain preceded by a mental disorder. Investigators found an above-average rate of incidence of depression, anxiety disorders, and behavioral disorders that occur before the onset of headaches, back pain, and neck pain.

The findings from University of Basel and Ruhr-Universität Bochum study leaders have been published in the Journal of Pain.

Mental disorders and chronic pain have an adverse effect on quality of life and well-being in those affected and present a huge challenge for the health system. Studies on adults have already shown that mental disorders and chronic pain frequently occur together.

In the new research, a group led by private lecturer Dr. Marion Tegethoff of the University of Basel’s Faculty of Psychology investigated how often and in what patterns — and, above all, in what chronological order — these connections occur in children and young people.

Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the project analyzed a representative sample population from the USA, consisting of 6,483 young people between the ages of 13 and 18.

Investigators found that more than a quarter (25.9 percent) of the young people had suffered from chronic pain and at least one mental disorder during their lifetime. At the same time, they identified connections between all of the investigated types of mental disorders (such as affective disorders, anxiety disorders, behavioral disorders, substance-induced disorders, and eating disorders) and chronic pain disorders (such as back/neck pain and headaches).

Mental disorders typically appeared before the onset of pain.

For example, affective disorders such as depression occurred particularly frequently before headaches. Furthermore, anxiety disorders often occurred before neck and back pain, as well as before headaches. Finally, behavioral disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders also indicated a risk of headaches.

As the analyzed data stems from an interdisciplinary study, it was not possible to investigate whether and how the causes of mental disorders and chronic pain are connected to one another.

“The temporal connections identified in the study can give only preliminary indications that mental disorders could be causal risk factors for chronic pain. Future studies should focus on identifying the underlying biological and psychological mechanisms with a view to developing interdisciplinary approaches to prevention and treatment” explains Marion Tegethoff, the study’s lead author.

Researchers believe this approach could reduce the negative long-term consequences of mental disorders and the prevention of chronic pain.

Source: University of Basel/EurekAlert