Psychological Effects of Chronic Pain for People of Different Ages

Many people focus on the impact that chronic pain can have on the body. However, this debilitating condition can affect nearly every aspect of their lives, including mental health. After all, there’s plenty of research indicating that chronic pain can lead to several psychological effects. 

In fact, nearly half of everyone who deals with this condition faces depression at one point. When people leave these afflictions untreated, the chronic pain can become even more complex to manage and overcome. It also affects people of different ages distinctly, and each has to deal with it in different ways.

What Are the Psychological Effects of Chronic Pain?

Living with chronic pain leads to many mental health issues. Some of them are more common for people in specific age ranges, while others are more universally present. Here are some common psychological effects of chronic pain:


People who endure chronic pain wonder if their condition might ever improve. This train of thought that surfaces frequently can lead people to a sense of hopelessness. Should they ignore these feelings, they might exacerbate the issue and make recovery, whether physical or mental, significantly more challenging. For many people, chronic pain often causes loss of interest, functional abilities, sleep disturbances, and more.


This condition is often a symptom of many physical and mental illnesses, but it can be a separate diagnosis by itself. People need to get a good night’s rest to function well during their day-to-day life, even if nowadays getting it is considerably hard thanks to how frantic the world is.

With chronic pain, sleeping becomes significantly problematic. The pain could be too distracting, or the medication’s side effect might make people unable to fall asleep, just like with antidepressants. Insomnia affects several aspects of people’s lives, such as digestion, memory, fitness, concentration, and more. It can also complicate other psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression.


People who suffer chronic pain constantly worry throughout their days about it. They might think about the cause of it, when the next doctor’s appointment is, whether they can keep working at their current job, etc. The pain can take up a considerable amount of focus, draining people of their energy.

They might become unable to cope appropriately with their condition as they endlessly concern about their health and well-being. People can start to second-guess themselves, wondering if their pain is psychosomatic or if they’re overreacting. All these actions can pile up and cause people to stress and suffer anxiety.

Cognitive Impairment

Cognition is an essential function that chronic pain can affect negatively. While temporal instances don’t impact it too much, enduring persistent pain can cause unwanted changes in the parts of the brain that control cognitive functions. For example, people with this condition often show disruption in their memory and attention levels.

How Does Chronic Pain Psychologically Affect People of Different Ages?

The psychological effects of chronic pain for people of different ages are similar in some aspects and different in others. For children and adolescents, the psychological impact can significantly hinder their daily lives and even affect their adult life, should they be unable to treat the condition properly.

For instance, the school life of many children with chronic pain might see a severe disturbance. Their newfound physical limitations might make them fall behind on their studies or make them unable to participate in everyday activities and sports.

It’s essential for children to try and maintain a normal life. During this period, the help of their parents is crucial. They have to take every measure needed to accommodate their child’s condition in the best manner possible. If their child can’t attend school regularly, they should arrange to have schoolwork sent back. Do they have to take medications during class? Inform the teachers and administrators beforehand.

Meanwhile, the mental health effect on adults depends mainly on the chronic pain severity. When the cause is fibromyalgia, spondylolisthesis, or osteoarthritis, they might suffer a hard emotional impact. Besides that, the typical mental health effects for adults are mostly those listed beforehand.

In the case of the elderly, chronic pain is more serious. As they often don’t receive adequate pain management due to lack of a proper pain assessment, pharmacotherapy risks, certain misconceptions, or bad communication, their normal functioning is often impaired. When they suffer chronic pain, the main effects they tend to show are cognitive decline and depression.

Numerous barriers make it harder for health care providers to treat the elderly, so there are constant efforts directed to find the best way to manage chronic pain in the elderly. Regardless, they remain inconsistent so far.

What Are the Typical Treatment Options for Chronic Pain?

People suffering from chronic pain can manage their condition through either medication or surgery if the cause warrants it. Some typical causes of chronic pain are migraines, back pains, osteoarthritis, spondylolisthesis, and fibromyalgia. The most common remedy for them is opioids, but doctors don’t recommend long-term usage due to some side effects.

Other prescribed medications can help both the patient’s mental health and chronic pain, such as antidepressants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, sedatives, anticonvulsants, and more.

Some surgical options that patients have are spinal cord or DRG stimulators. These are implanted devices that send electrical signals to mitigate pain. Otherwise, it’s possible to directly treat the cause of the chronic pain if it’s identified. For example, several excellent methods to cure spondylolisthesis of lumbar region can solve the problem, should that be the cause. It’s the same for pelvic pain and osteoarthritis.

Are There Mental Health Treatments for Chronic Pain?

People can address the psychological effects by finding a pain psychologist. They specialize in treating people who experience chronic pain. Then, people can participate in either individual or group therapy. Some known mental health solutions based on evidence are:

  • Contextual cognitive behavioral therapy: It’s a type of talk therapy focusing on accepting oneself and getting rid of negative thoughts by identifying what’s meaningful to the person.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. It helps people transform their negative thoughts and foster coping skills to better control their emotions, mood, and pain.
  • Mindfulness training. It includes several types of meditation.
  • Supportive therapy.
  • Clinical hypnosis.

What Can People with Chronic Pain Do to Improve Their Condition?

People who endure chronic pain benefit from emotional support. They can join support groups to meet people in similar situations or find an excellent specialist to help manage the condition. People can try and advocate for the issues that cause chronic pain or even open up to their colleagues and friends. Communication can be essential to convey the effects of this condition and to return to normalcy.