Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that has to do with the changing of the seasons, specifically when fall begins. It affects around 10 million Americans during the fall and winter seasons. Back pain can be a symptom of the disorder. For most individuals, the condition follows a pattern:
- It starts with lethargy or lack of energy
- Craving carbohydrates
- Heavy low mood
These are typical symptoms for many dealing with the condition. The individual can experience aches and pains throughout the body, but especially the back. Recent studies have shown how various forms of depression, like Seasonal Affective Disorder, can present with pain, specifically back/spinal pain. Many individuals play it off as the blues, but research has found, depression can have a much more significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. The exact cause is still unknown. But research is finding a connection related to the level of sunlight an individual receives throughout the day.
Research has shown there could be a biochemical imbalance in the brain when there is less daylight during fall and winter. As the seasons change from summer to fall individuals can experience a shift in circadian rhythms that can cause them to disrupt their regular daily routine. However, Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common for individuals living where the daylight lessens and has been shown to affect women more than men and young adults.
Depression and Back Pain Connection
Depression can present with pain symptoms and the pain can enhance the depression. Headaches, Body aches, and especially backaches are common symptoms of depression. Research has shown that individuals with severe depression can actually feel a more intense level of pain.
Physical symptoms like back pain or headaches can be the only or the beginning symptom/s of seasonal affective depression. As research continues to grow as to how the nervous system interacts with the body, pain symptoms have been found to be connected to biological mechanisms connected with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Living a sedentary lifestyle, with little or no physical activity and regular exercise can be another cause for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Depression itself can cause fatigue that restrains individuals from exercising and working the core muscles for optimal spinal strength and health.
This added stress on the spine’s discs, joints, and ligaments, makes the body more susceptible to low back pain, muscle strains, illness, and injuries. Pain can wear an individual down impacting mood and overall health.
The difference between Seasonal Affective Disorder and chronic depression is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is limited to the same time of the year during the time of less light, and winter months. Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can be the same as those associated with depression. They are:
- Feeling Low/Depressed
- Weight gain
- Increased appetite
- Craving sugar and carbohydrates
- Sleeping all-day
- Consistent drowsiness
- Loss of interest in enjoyed activities
Symptoms can also be related to low levels of Vitamin D, which is associated with anxiety and depression for individuals with fibromyalgia. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be related to chronic pain conditions the way depression can. Some individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome can also present with symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Diagnosis for Seasonal Affective Disorder requires an individual to experience at least two years of symptoms that become worse at a specific time of the year. And the depressive episodes have to significantly be worse than the non-seasonal episodes of depression. There are four types of treatments, that can be used individually or in combination. They are:
Medications used to treat the disorder are known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy/CBT is a form of psychotherapy that is effective for the disorder, as well as other conditions. It relies on techniques that identify negative thoughts and work on ways to not dwell on the negative and focus more on positive things and thoughts.
Diminished sunlight when fall and winter arrive can be replaced with regular exposure to a bright, artificial lightbox. Individuals sit or stand in front of the lightbox when they get up on a daily basis. This is done when fall begins and goes on until spring. The lightbox filters out ultraviolet rays and requires around 20 to 60 minutes of exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light.
Low levels of vitamin D were found in individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Talk to a doctor about the proper level of vitamin D that should be taken through supplements.
The Pain and Backaches
Understanding how pain and depression are interconnected treating both conditions as part of an integrative treatment plan can include:
- Chiropractic care for releasing muscle tension
- Psychological counseling
- Relaxation therapy
- A light aerobic exercise program that stimulates serotonin levels and releases endorphins to relieve depression and pain.
- Low-dose antidepressants can reduce depression symptoms and back pain. They work to inhibit the reuptake of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine that is associated with a person’s mood and the way they perceive pain.
Everyone is unique, which means that different treatment plans and combinations of treatment plans may have to be tried out before finding the optimal one. A significant factor is not settling with the pain and just accepting it. Healing can be a unique and complex experience. The objective is for the individual and doctor to work collaboratively.
Depression and Chronic Pain
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|Robertson, David et al. “Associations between low back pain and depression and somatization in a Canadian emerging adult population.” The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association vol. 61,2 (2017): 96-105.|
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The information herein on "Seasonal Affective Disorder Depression, and Back Pain" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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