Musculoskeletal Pain and Mental Health – Breaking the Vicious Cycle

Dr. Pamela Mehta, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon, San Jose

pain mental health

Musculoskeletal pain and mood disorders are intrinsically linked.

The more pain you have in your day-to-day life, the worse your mood is likely to be. The lower your mood, the more likely you are to suffer from pain, and the worse your experience of that pain is. It’s a vicious cycle that can lead to suffering that seems endless.

So, how do you break out of the cycle?

How Musculoskeletal Pain Causes Mental Health Problems

Pain exists to warn us that something unpleasant is happening. Its purpose is to let you know there’s a problem, and that you need to fix it.

If you have glass stuck in your foot, the pain you feel tells you that you need to remove the glass.

If you accidentally grab a hot pan, your pain receptors kick in almost instantly to move your hand away without you even thinking about it.

However, while pain can be quite useful in these scenarios, chronic pain can have a very different effect.

Chronic pain, which is pain lasting longer than 3 months, is an example of when the function of pain does not help the sufferer. Over a third of adults in the US suffer from chronic pain, often due to chronic health conditions.

This is where the vicious cycle of pain and mood comes in. Chronic pain is known to significantly impact your mood and daily life. Whether you had depression or other mental health disorders before the onset of pain or not, chronic pain impacts your mood, energy levels, and outlook on life.

Mental health disorders that are more common among chronic pain sufferers include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Personality disorders

In some of these cases, the mental health disorder is caused by chronic pain. In others, the mental health issues predate the pain, but their underlying mental health condition then exacerbates the symptoms associated with pain and prolongs recovery.

Book a Consultation with Dr. Pamela Mehta, MD

The Best Orthopedic Surgeon in San Jose

Dr. Mehta is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who can help you recover from your joint condition. If you:

  • Are Suffering From Pain and Mobility Issues
  • Need Orthopedic Assessment and Advice
  • Want Treatment From a Top Orthopedic Doctor

We Can Help

Common Causes of Chronic Pain

There are many causes of chronic pain. Sometimes chronic pain is caused by injuries which are slow to heal or conditions in which pain is a secondary symptom. Common conditions which cause pain include:

  • Migraines and chronic headaches
  • Post-operative pain following surgery
  • Chronic low back pain
  • Osteoarthritis and other joint problems
  • Muscle disorders
  • Cancer

There are also many chronic disorders which are linked to mental health disorders, for which pain forms the main symptom. These conditions are particularly prone to the vicious cycle where pain worsens the mental state, which then worsens the effects of the pain, and so on. These conditions include:

  • Fibromyalgia – a common and difficult-to-diagnose condition that causes widespread muscle pain and tenderness in the body, as well as stiffness and difficulty with movement.
  • Pelvic pain – a common condition among women that can be caused by various uterine disorders including endometriosis, fibroids, polyps, and menstrual cramps.
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a rare condition that causes severe and unpredictable pain, often after trauma.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome – a bowel disorder linked to your nervous system, which causes abdominal pain, cramps, and changes in bowel movements.

Depression and Musculoskeletal Conditions

As you can see above, many chronic pain conditions originate from your joints and muscles. In addition to the impact of pain on your mental well-being, these conditions also affect how you move and your level of mobility.

The pain caused by these conditions creates fear and avoidance of movement, which often makes the pain even worse. Worsening mobility can lead to you becoming more isolated, and avoid your normal daily activities. This can impact many of the components which contribute to happiness and fulfilment, including social life, recreation, work, finance, relationships, and family.

Often chronic pain and joint conditions lead to pain in other joints. Those with osteoarthritis in their knee, for example, will change how they walk to avoid causing pain in that knee. This change in posture and gait means you end up putting more strain and stress on other joints such as your hips and lower back. This exacerbates your chronic pain, affects your mobility, and causes a deterioration in your other joints.

When it comes to musculoskeletal conditions, acute pain can also lead to mental health problems. As an example, if you enjoy sports as an athlete or as a hobby, a sports injury and the resulting pain can lead to worsening mental health, which in turn prolongs recovery. This brings with it the risk of developing a long-term mental health condition, including addiction and depression, which can then prevent you from returning to your sport.

How to Break the Pain Cycle

Treatment of depression and chronic pain, when suffered together, is notoriously difficult. Both conditions affect motivation and your ability to make it to appointments in the first place, so even if you want to get better you might find treatment difficult. For some, this means finding a healthcare provider who will make adjustments, such as performing telemedicine consultations over the internet.

When you suffer from both chronic pain and a mental health condition, treating just one or the other may not be enough to break the cycle. You need to tackle both issues at the same time, with each treatment also helping to improve your recovery from the other condition.

When treating a mental health condition, there are several interventions which might help:

  • Seeing a qualified mental health professional
  • Medication for low mood and anxiety
  • Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation

At the same time, it’s important to treat the underlying cause of chronic pain. Pain is a subjective sensation and can be experienced in very different ways. You must find a healthcare professional who listens to you and can show compassion. Empathetic caregivers make it easier for you to share information about your symptoms and concerns, which makes an accurate diagnosis more likely.

If you have no clue where to start, see a general practitioner or pain specialist who can order investigations to locate the cause of your pain. While you are waiting for a diagnosis and treatment for the underlying condition, your healthcare provider may suggest pain treatments including:

  • Painkillers
  • Gentle exercise
  • Nerve block
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Acupuncture

If you have joint or muscle pains, seeing an orthopedic surgeon is a good place to start. They will examine your joints and order investigations such as x-rays, MRIs, and blood tests to reach a diagnosis. If your chronic pain is a result of a joint condition, there may be surgical options to fix the underlying problem and help with the pain. If surgery isn’t a good choice for your musculoskeletal condition, your healthcare provider may suggest treatments including:

  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections
  • Joint support, braces, and splints

By tackling both your mental well-being and the condition which is causing your chronic pain, you give yourself the best chance of breaking the cycle of pain and moving on with your life.

How Resilience Orthopedics Can Help

pamela mehta scrubs headshot

Dr. Pamela Mehta is an orthopedic surgeon and a specialist in sports injuries, degenerative arthritis, and minimally invasive surgery. Dr. Mehta offers a concierge service and treats you holistically, rather than just fixing your joints. She listens to your concerns, takes time to explain how your condition and potential surgery will affect you, and works with you to create the best treatment plan.

Resilience Orthopedics is based San Jose, California. To make sure you get the right diagnosis and treatment the first time, get in touch to begin your journey to recovery.


Ruby G.
Ruby G.
My experience with Dr Mehta was simply phenomenal. I had a cyst on my wrist and severe shoulder pain. Dr Mehta scheduled me quickly and her staff were so kind and personable.  She discussed the treatment plan with me in detail and made me comfortable with plan. Her bedside manner was kind, empathetic and thoughtful and she went out of her way to make me feel comfortable. After treatment my shoulder was pain free after months of agony, and she removed the cyst  from my wrist.   She followed up with me the next day to make sure I was ok. I can't recommend Dr Mehta highly enough, high quality, comfortable treatment from a wonderfully skilled surgeon. Thank you Dr Mehta!
S G.
S G.
I highly recommend Dr. Pamela Mehta. I was recently helped by her for a broken bone that needed surgery. She is a very detailed-oriented and thorough orthopedic surgeon who thinks creatively about solving problems every step of the presurgery, surgery and recovery. She is top-notch. I had an extremely positive experience with her and would recommend her and her staff to anyone seeking a smart, professional and detailed team for a bone cast or orthopedic surgery.
Samantha L.
Samantha L.
When your children like to run around barefoot it is inevitable that they will eventually get something lodged into their foot. Our daughter was climbing some trees in our backyard and wedged a couple splinters deep in her foot. After a few hours of attempts at home to remove these splinters with our own tweezers, soaking the feet, various internet remedies (and lots of scared screaming from our daughter when we got near her with tweezers) we sought the help of Dr. Mehta. Dr. Mehta's kind and calming approach was most helpful when she quickly examined the foot, spoke with our daughter, and then removed the two splinters from her foot. She helped to keep our daughter calm during the procedure and deftly pulled out the splinters. We recommend Dr. Mehta to anyone needing an expert physician who can deal with delicate patients!
Michele G.
Michele G.
Dr. Pamela Mehta earned my highest MD review.  I have seen a half dozen surgeon's involving multiple surgeries for orthopedic injury and this doctor checks all the best boxes: * an emphatic listener * holistic 'whole person' treatment; much more than just a skilled surgeon * tightly networked to other excellent coordinating care MD's * recommends surgical alternatives whenever possible * real concern for functional patient outcomes * tough when needed, even when treatment is uncomfortable * solid, well organized support staff Thank You Dr. Mehta!
Aaliya Y.
Aaliya Y.
I consulted Dr. Mehta after breaking my ankle in December 2019. She was extremely empathetic, knowledgeable, and took her time to explain everything to me so that I had a good understanding of my fracture and management options. She held my hand and got me comfortable with the idea of surgery and allayed my fears. Her office was very responsive, timely and  worked efficiently to help me get my imaging done in an expeditious manner. I highly recommend her for her incredible bedside manner, empathy and level of expertise. She is exactly what you want in your surgeon.
Katrina A.
Katrina A.
Life is full of mishaps and great relationships. I had one really big mishap and happily stumbled into a a wonderful relationship. I've been blessed to cross paths with the beautiful professional Dr. Mehta and her wonderful staff. In a time when pain seriously interferes with manners. They were kind and gracious even when I was not. The of staff  everything they we always great.
Mike V.
Mike V.
The best! I have been going to Dr Mehta for years and she is second to none! Highly recommend
A T.
A T.
This review is long overdue from a very happy and ever so grateful patient! I was having major shoulder pain to the point where I couldn't raise my left shoulder. I decided to go to Dr. Mehta after a friend recommended me to her.  Dr. Mehta was very attentive during our initial apt. She was quickly able to diagnose the root cause of my shoulder issue and explained the how and why I ended up with this pain. Her treatment plan involved me doing various mobility exercises and after two weeks I can honestly say I am at least 50% better. I think a few other Yelp reviewers mentioned this but I have to say it again, Dr Mehta truly cares about her patients and it was very apparent from how she followed up with my recovery. She called and emailed me to make sure I was following the plan and kept up with all my progress. I'm not sure how Dr Mehta finds the time to do all this but after my experience with her, I can say with certainty that she is a very skillful doctor and I have 100% trust in her.
steve k.
steve k.
I had a great experience my one time meeting Dr Mehta. She walked me through what the problem was and the course of action to fix it. She laid things out calmly with a step by step of how we get me back to 100% with no future pain. Her calm demeanor and thorough explanation made me feel at ease that everything would work out fine. I followed the steps provided and everything did work out just as she'd laid out. Should something come up again I will definitely be going to Dr Mehta again.
gajan t.
gajan t.
I write only a few Yelp reviews a year, and hope that this will help anyone who is trying to find the right orthopedic doctor.  I went to 3 orthopedic doctors when I had a serious knee issue earlier this year. Although, I received good advice from all the doctors, I chose Dr. Mehta because she spent a considerable amount of time helping me to understand the root cause of my knee pain and then created a blueprint moving forward of preventative measures. She was definitely very insightful in her diagnosis and more importantly her treatment. What actually inspired me to really write this yelp review was because of her follow up calls and how much I realized that she really wanted to see me get better. I've been to many good doctors in the bay area but only a handful that offer this much personalized care. I highly recommend Dr. Mehta and happy to talk to anyone about my experience if you trying to decide on an orthopedic doctor.