The Vicious Couple: Chronic Pain and Depression

The Vicious Couple: Chronic Pain and Depression


“Being in constant pain is so mentally draining”

“I can’t focus on my goals until I feel better, this recurring pain shatters my motivation”

“Whenever my joints start aching while doing something I love, the whole experience is spoiled”

“If only I could resolve my body pains, I could go back to what I love and I wouldn’t feel so down anymore” 

Have you said or heard someone else say something along the lines of these statements before? There seems to be a strong correlation between physical pain which is recurring and seemingly insolvable, and the mental health of the person suffering from this issue. Not being able to physically perform the way you expect, such as participating in sports or activities that give you a sense of purpose, can be mentally crippling. When the pain doesn’t change or gets worse with time, this can lead to depression.

Depression cannot only be described as ‘feeling down’, it is a serious medical illness with many symptoms. It can affect your ability to carry on with daily life and to enjoy family, friends, work and leisure (1).

At the same far end of the spectrum chronic pain is not just a superficial injury or acute pain that goes away quickly, chronic pain is defined as a pain that lasts for over 3 months and for many people that can even last for years on end after an injury or because of an illness (2).

Depression resulting from chronic pain or from a chronic illness is a common and unfortunate correlation that can make you feel stuck in a loop; up to 85% patients with chronic pain are affected by severe depression (3).

In this article we will examine why chronic pain can cause depression and how Functional Patterns methodology can help you address those problems with long lasting results.


Chronic Pain and Chronic Illness can cause Depression

The medical community has a consensus on the matter: chronic pain due to repeated injuries or due to a chronic disease can lead to depression.
After a severe injury (car accident, sport injury...) that could have led to a herniated disc in your spine for example, or a broken bone, or a joint misalignment (severe ankle or knee sprains repeated over years for instance) your body can sometimes struggle to fully recover and will remain in pain. You then find yourself in a situation where you have to stop some of the daily activities you usually enjoy doing like walking in the park, playing with your children, gardening or even something that seemed insignificant until then like sitting down and getting up from a chair. Having to stop these activities or struggle to do them can lead to a feeling of uselessness, sadness and even despair when nothing seems to help you cure your body aches slowly leading you into a state of lingering discouragement.

But depression after an injury is not the only typical scenario. Many medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, lung disease, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis can cause chronic pain. Given the predominant degenerative component of these illnesses and the lack of long term perspective to improve one’s condition, feeling discouraged and depressed become almost unavoidable. At Functional Patterns by adopting a First Principles approach and by focusing on the 4 main movements human beings have evolved with (standing, walking, running and throwing) we have examples of people who have managed to improve their chronic pain conditions.

Below is the case of a 60 year old male trained by the Functional Patterns practitioner Lou Ellery at FP Brisbane’s facility in Australia. He suffers from multiple sclerosis with numerous body aches, difficulties to sleep and to balance unassisted. His training using Functional Patterns methodology only is helping him improve his condition [full testimony on Functional Patterns’s Instagram page, found here (4)].

Results by Functional Patterns Practitioner Lou Ellery out of FP Brisbane

Finding Balance

Living in a state of chronic pain can deregulate your body’s normal functions, making it more difficult for you to establish a peace of mind and balance. A state of balance is having the mental clarity to solve the problems that come in your path while tackling the mundane tasks of everyday life. This includes emotional situations, physical challenges and social interactions.

Most of the energy used by your brain on a daily basis is aimed at assessing your position in space and how balanced you are overall at a deep cellular level. Your brain is constantly doing math to monitor your environment and maintain your readiness. This energy is being used on mostly subconscious processes such as estimating the distance and speed at which you are approaching the steps leading to your front door for example.

Because of chronic pain, this can then affect the equilibrium of one’s brain, and can eventually lead to mental health conditions such as depression if that state of equilibrium cannot regulate.

Can depression make your body hurt?

The relationship between chronic pain and depression can also happen the other way around: physical pain can be induced by mental health issues such as depression.

The depression effect on the body follows the same logic of why chronic pain can cause a depressive state, your brain finds itself out of balance and other parts of your body get affected. The increasing level of stress hormones such as cortisol may affect your immune system making it more difficult for your body to fight infections and increasing the likelihood of inflammation leading to more body aches.

How Functional Patterns Addresses Chronic Pain and Depression

Many people are living or have been living with long lasting injuries or illnesses sometimes for years and are living with an equally long lasting depression. As we saw in the introduction up to 85% of patients with chronic pain are affected by severe depression. Long term medication (muscle relaxers, anti inflammatory drugs, sedatives...) or alternatives like CBD products are often used to help cope with the pain but they don’t really help with a significant improvement in the long run.

Earlier in this article we were mentioning the fact that your brain spends most of its energy problem solving, and what Functional Patterns helps you do is problem solve physical anomalies more efficiently.

It is like a math equation. If how you moved in the past has led to an injury that becomes recurrent, then it would make sense that you would need to change the way you move to prevent that injury in the future. Prescriptions and other modalities are akin to addressing the same problem with variables that don’t even relate to your issue, which is largely but not limited to being movement-based.

FP gives you the applicable formula and the relevant variables to calculate the solution to your issue; such as helping you determine proper ratios and angles for your body to leverage heavy objects or even light objects. Activities that were once stress-inducing because of the uncertainty of how your body would respond would become less frequent as you build your toolbox. Training in FP allows you to do better math, and faster, so that your brain can spend less time stuck on physical challenges and more time on restoring its equilibrium. When your physical environment becomes more clear on how to approach, this gives you more space to address the mental aspects of your life, and to pull through the fog of depression.

A large percentage of people starting to train their body following Functional Patterns principles come from a background of chronic pain and many of them report that Functional Patterns turned out to be the only method that has helped them address their anxiety and depression linked to chronic body aches.

You can listen to useful examples from clients interviewed on the Functional Podcast. The interviewee, Michael, for instance has been suffering from various chronic pain all over his body that would put him in a deep state of anxiety and depression. He explains in depth how Functional Patterns has been the only way for him to address his chronic pain and anxiety and remain in that state of resilience (5).


Chronic pain and depression often go hand in hand and will often force you to stop doing things from your daily life that you were taking for granted. Although repeated injuries and long lasting pain can make you feel desperate, a holistic way to address the problem can help you start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.


  4. Results by FP Practitioner Lou Ellery out of FP Brisbane
  5. Functional Podcast with Rodney Acero and Guest Michael Cookerly on Pain, Anxiety, and Resilience to Stress
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