A recent study found that depression can increase the severity of pain related to arthritis, particularly in the knees. Researchers in South Korea examined six hundred and sixty men and women who suffered from knee osteoarthritis, using X-rays to assess the severity of the disease. Patients were also evaluated for the severity of arthritis symptoms as well as for signs of depression.
Levels of pain were higher in patients whose X-rays showed more severely damaged joints, which was expected. However, researchers also found that depression was associated with an increased level of pain in the joints of the knee, even when the damage to the joint was only mild or moderate. Patients who suffered both from depression and a severely damaged joint had the highest pain levels out of all those surveyed. The findings were published in the March 16 issue of Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Dr. Tae Kyun Kim, director of the division of knee surgery and sports medicine at the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital Joint Reconstruction Center, said in a journal news release that osteoarthritis of the knee is one of the more common causes of pain and physical impairment in elderly adults. She added that many times, the type of symptoms from osteoarthritis that patients report is more significant than what can be seen in X-rays, which in turn can make it harder for physicians to treat.
Kim added that the study’s results show that depression plays a significant role in how patients experience the various symptoms of arthritis of the knee, as well as that just because X-rays may not show severe arthritis, depressed patients can still experience high levels of pain. She also said that the relationship between depression and physical pain may indicate that doctors should consider both when treating patients for knee arthritis, especially when X-rays do not show severely damaged joints.
Kim said that certain patients who suffer from knee osteoarthritis can still experience pain and impaired movement, even after they have undergone reconstructive or replacement surgery. According to Kim, pain and physical disability following surgery can sometimes go unexplained medically, and that screening patients who experience post-surgery pain or disability for depression is a pertinent move. Kim said. One of the reasons that so little is known about depression’s interaction with arthritis is that depression is often undiagnosed in the elderly, according to the United States National Institute of Mental Health. This study provides an important look into how one’s mental health plays into physical symptoms such as arthritis, as well as how depression can impact physical health in a number of ways.