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Pain and Mental Health


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Dr. Judith Akin focuses on how physical pain can affect the mental well being of the body.

Begin Transcript

Stephanie Townsend: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Stephanie Townsend with Vanderbilt Occupational Health. We are here to talk with Dr. Judith Akin, Staff Psychiatrist at Work Life Connections. What is pain?

Dr. Judith Akin: There is not a single description of pain that I can think of, and I typically divide what I describe as physical pain into two main categories. One is neuropathic pain which stems from either pressure or some type of damage to an affected nerve, and the symptoms associated with neuropathic pain tend to be a sharp shooting pain, or sometimes there will be burning or tingling. Non-neuropathic pain can be like a dull ache, throbbing, or what an individual might describe as sore.

Stephanie Townsend: Can environmental and physical barriers like stress, depression, and anxiety exacerbate physical pain?

Dr. Judith Akin: Oh, absolutely, 50% of individuals that have chronic pain will develop the signs and symptoms of depression, and I am using that more than just a state of mind. With clinical depression, the individual will have decline in social and physical functioning. They are less motivated, their sleep changes, their appetite changes, they may have feelings of hopelessness, be irritable, and one of the serious complications of depression in someone with pain is they can drop out of treatment or not be compliant with their medications. We also know that even if they continue in their pain management, if they have untreated depression, those patients do not respond optimally to their pain management regimen.

Stephanie Townsend: What are some tips that will cue a person to seek assistance?

Dr. Judith Akin: I would encourage somebody to reach out to their physician if they are noticing a decline in their day-to-day level of functioning, whether that involves just simply getting up, getting dressed, taking care of your routine responsibilities, or if you are still working, that it is just more of a struggle. If you find yourself more irritable with other people or you are just not able to enjoy life, then certainly that warrants an assessment. But in some individuals that have pain, the process gradually gets worse without the person fully realizing that they are on a downward spiral, and so in those situations, it may be a close friend, a coworker, or family member that brings that to your attention and encourages you to seek professional help.

Stephanie Townsend: What are some alternative methods currently used to treat or relieve pain?

Dr. Judith Akin: Although it may feel counterintuitive, with medical clearance there are some painful conditions that actually get better with physical activity, which in the short run you may feel worse, but it is necessary to have long-term relief, and this is very much the case for certain types of back pain. We know that exercise has many, many health benefits, and if you have a complicated medical condition, you would certainly want to get clearance for what your exercise regimen or physical therapy regimen might look like by your health care provider.

Stephanie Townsend: Well, thank you, Dr. Akin. Thanks for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast on the form at the bottom of this page. If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at, or you can use the “Contact Us” page on our website at

— end of recording (04:26) —

Posted on Friday, May 13, 2016 in Occupational Health Clinic, Wellcasts and tagged , , , ,


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