Can Knee Pain Lead To Depression?

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( — May 3, 2018) — Both pain and depression are internalized in subjective ways by each individual. The link between them is undeniable and has been studied for a long time. There is evidence to show that pain can cause depression and that depression causes pain. Because knee pain is so unique it may bring upon depression in specific ways.

Healthy Knees

Due to genetics or external factors, knees may be a constant source of pain. Here are some ways to alleviate the pain:

  • Eating healthy – Making sure to eat a well-balanced diet will provide the body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to synthesize proteins needed for survival. Use websites as resources for recipes and ideas to help keep healthy eating on track. For example, Authority Health offers comprehensive advice about nutrition, health and leading a healthy lifestyle.

  • Light exercising – Experiencing knee pain is not the time to take up running, however, swimming can be extremely therapeutic. In addition, working with a physical therapist is helpful to learn stretches to manage the pain.

  • Heat/cold therapy – Applying heat or cold to ease knee pain, is both inexpensive and easy to do. Many people use these 2 therapies in conjunction with each other. For example, heat therapy is used to warm up muscles before exercising, while cold therapy is extremely helpful in reducing swelling and pain post-working out.

Ways Knee Pain Affects Our Lives

Knee pain can be caused by a number of conditions such as an acute injury, arthritis or from a physical imbalance due to the instability of other joints in the body. When it comes to pain in the knee, one of the most used joints for physical activity, there are a couple of factors which can increase the risk of developing depression.

1. Knee Pain Linked To Serotonin

Serotonin is a chemical that the brain uses to transmit signals via specialized cells called neurons. That is why it is called a neurotransmitter. Researchers have determined that serotonin is involved in inhibiting signals of pain in the descending pathways of the central nervous system. For a variety of reasons, such as serotonin resistance, or serotonin depletion, this action is reduced in the case of chronic pain such as knee pain.

Serotonin is also responsible for mood stability. When serotonin is depleted or has become ineffective in the brain, the result is undeniably clinical depression. Serotonin therefore provides the molecular link between chronic knee pain and depression.

2. Knee Pain And Sleep

Without noticing it, we actually move quite a lot in our sleep. Since the knee joint bears a considerable amount of stress in certain sleeping positions, it is possible and even probable that knee pain can cause trouble falling asleep or it can cause a person to wake up. Sleep is also quite a complex biological process which involves several hormones and neurotransmitters including serotonin. Sleep is such an important process in health because it allows brain cells to form stronger connections and for synthesis of important molecules, especially such as those in the brain, to occur.

3. Knee Pain Causes A Decrease In Physical Activity

A person who suffers from knee pain is unlikely to get much physical activity. They cannot run or swim or dance so they are limited to minor physical activity that is unable to express the full benefits of exercise.

Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are released when an individual conducts a beneficial biological activity such as exercise. The role of these brain chemicals is to cause the individual to feel more positive so that they will conduct the same beneficial activity. Without these endorphins from physical exercise, especially in individuals who had previously been exercising, there is less stimulation for a positive mood which can lead to depression.

4. Feeling Useless Or Helpless

Possibly one of the most overlooked psychological symptom of knee pain is that a person can begin to feel like they are useless or cannot do enough for themself. This is because they cannot conduct the same activity with the same efficiency that they used to before they had the knee pain. The reduced mobility that knee pain causes can produce frustration in the person suffering from it. These consistent negative feelings can definitely contribute to the onset of depression.


Pain and depression are both complex biological phenomena to which many factors contribute and from which many complications can arise.