Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder and Its Effects on Pain

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also called seasonal depression, is a mood disorder that occurs with seasonal changes, typically in the fall and winter months. While it primarily affects mood, SAD can also have an impact on physical well-being, including pain.

What is the connection between SAD and pain? Here, we take a closer look at the symptoms of SAD, how they can influence pain, and potential treatment options for managing both.

What Is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression that align with specific seasons, particularly when the days become shorter and sunlight exposure decreases.

It is thought to be caused by a disruption in the body’s internal clock due to less light and a corresponding decrease in serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood and pain perception.

SAD is estimated to affect around 5% of adults in the United States, with a higher prevalence in northern latitudes. While it can occur during the summer months (known as reverse SAD), most cases occur during fall and winter.

What Are the Symptoms of SAD?

Common symptoms of SAD include low mood, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite or weight, and increased need for sleep. Additionally, individuals with SAD may experience increased sensitivity to pain and a worsening of existing pain conditions.

The Link Between Pain and SAD: Why Depression Can Make Pain Worse

Research suggests that there is a reciprocal relationship between chronic pain and depression. The experience of pain can contribute to the development of depression, while people with depression are more likely to have heightened pain sensitivity.

Similarly, the physiological changes associated with SAD, such as decreased serotonin levels, can impact pain perception and sensitivity, making people more sensitive to discomfort.

The exact mechanisms behind the relationship between SAD and pain are not yet fully understood. However, the changes in neurotransmitter levels, disrupted circadian rhythm, and decreased exposure to natural light can contribute to increased pain perception and sensitivity.

Increased sensitivity to pain can be especially challenging for those suffering from chronic pain or discomfort, which can make seasonal depression worse. Worsening depression can then, in turn, make the pain worse.

Treatment Options for Musculoskeletal Pain Worsening with SAD

When SAD exacerbates musculoskeletal pain, a multimodal treatment approach may be beneficial. This can include a combination of therapies, such as: 

Light Therapy

Light therapy consists of either using a special light box that mimics exposure to natural sunlight or getting outside as soon as possible after waking up to get more sunlight exposure. This exposure can help enhance serotonin production, which can boost mood and fight fatigue and depression. Light therapy can also improve sleep. 

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can have a positive impact on both SAD and pain management. Eating a balanced diet, rich in mood-boosting nutrients, can help support overall well-being. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and getting enough physical activity can also contribute to better pain management.

Chiropractic Care

For people experiencing musculoskeletal pain associated with SAD, chiropractic care may be helpful. Chiropractors can utilize various techniques, including spinal adjustments, massage therapy, and exercise recommendations, to alleviate pain, improve joint function, and enhance overall well-being.

Schedule a Consultation With Us

If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and chronic pain, both of these conditions can make the other worse. Book a free consultation with Ward Chiropractic & Rehabilitation today to see if your discomfort could benefit from chiropractic treatment as part of a holistic regimen for SAD!