Study Shows Antidepressants Are Not Always The Answer To Chronic Pain

Pain is your body informing you that something has gone awry, but when pain persists, it can ultimately disrupt a person's ability to carry out their daily activities. Chronic pain is a devastating experience for many adults, with an estimated 16 million adults in the United States reporting chronic back pain alone, according to the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University. For adults with chronic back pain, their utilization of medical services and treatment methods far outweighs the usage of the same services by adults without chronic pain. Medical News Today reports that there are a variety of treatments available for chronic pain, but one treatment that may not be as effective as previously believed is the use of prescription antidepressants to alleviate pain. In a recent 2023 study published in TheBMJ, researchers used a blind distribution method of prescription antidepressant medication and placebo pills, ultimately determining that the efficacy of antidepressants in the treatment of chronic pain is not as prolific as traditionally believed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classify chronic pain as disruptive pain that persists for more than three months. Over 20% of American adults live with some form of chronic pain, with the largest and highest-risk demographic being over the age of 65. The increased risk comes with decreased mobility and aging that come about as a person grows older. To mitigate the progression of chronic pain, interventional treatment methods are actively sought out by experts and medical professionals.

Multiple treatments are generally recommended

The use of antidepressants in the treatment of chronic pain, particularly spinal pain, nerve damage, and arthritis, has admittedly not been fully understood when it comes to how exactly the medications decrease pain, per Mayo Clinic. Speculation has surrounded the way that neurotransmitters that communicate pain signals throughout the body may be suppressed by the antidepressant medication. The researchers behind the recent study published in TheBMJ found that medication classified as tricyclic antidepressants can be effective in reducing pain in some patients, particularly those with rheumatoid arthritis, but the efficacy rates aren't as high as historically thought, and for many patients with chronic pain the tricyclic antidepressants don't actually affect their levels of pain. While it has been promoted that the pros and cons be analyzed for each patient, the global rate of physicians prescribing antidepressants for chronic pain has drastically increased over the past decade, with more antidepressants currently being prescribed for chronic pain than for depression in many countries.

Rather than rely on antidepressants and other prescriptions, holistic treatment regimens are frequently promoted for optimal alleviation of chronic pain (via Medical News Today). Holistic methods such as massage, physical therapy, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units are popular techniques for treating chronic pain. Though prescription medications like muscle relaxers and pain relievers may be used in a patient's treatment plan, it's recommended that healthcare providers approach the oversight of chronic pain management through a comprehensive lens.