According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing low back pain the the past three months.
Usually when you think of back pain, you think of something that has gone wrong in your. Perhaps a sprain caused the pain. Maybe the you has a curve in your spine. Maybe sciatica is the cause. However, the mind and body are closely linked.
When there is distress in the mind, it can often manifest as pain in the body. Can stress cause back pain? Below, I will show you 3 ways that stress can lead to back pain.
Signs that the stress may be causing your back pain
If stress is causing your back pain, then it could be accompanied by other symptoms of stress.
You could experience some physical symptoms such as insomnia, stomach pain, or back pain.
You could experience racing thoughts, irritability, depression and anxiety.
At the same time, your back pain could be the only issue that you notice.
People experience stress in different ways. Some people experience more in their minds and some more in their bodies.
If you have already been diagnosed with a psychological disorder such as depression or anxiety, you could be particularly vulnerable to pain caused by stress. These disorders could affect how you focus on and approach pain making you more vulnerable to chronic pain.
Pain from stress can also present itself in different ways. You could have a general ache all over you body. You could just have soreness in your back and neck. There could be certain pressure points that cause intense pain, similar to fibromyalgia.
How stress leads to back pain
Stress can lead to muscle tension
When we are stressed, we tend to experience a flight or flight response. Our muscles tense so that we are prepared in a stressful situation.
Think about it. If we lived in the wild, muscle tension would serve us if we needed to run from danger because it would prepare our bodies for the activity. If we were in a situation where we needed to fight, it would make us prepared to fight harder against our opponents.
However, in most stressful situations in modern times, the muscle tension does not serve us. Modern stress tends to be long lasting and build up over time.
The tension is longer than we were ever meant to experience and can potentially lead to significant pain.
Stress can cause you to behave differently
People hold themselves differently when they are stressed out, anxious, and depressed. Without even being conscious of it, people tend to wind their arms and legs tightly when they are stressed.
They also tend to hunch forward with their head protruding forward. It is almost as if they are protecting themselves against a physical blow that will never come.
The body is not in an ideal physiological position when it is positioned this way. Even if you are hunched a little, it can strain different parts of your back in a significant way. The head is very heavy and when it is positioned more forward, like in people who are stressed, that has an effect on the body all the way down.
There is more strain on the shoulders, neck, and even the lower back. Our posture also affects the way that we breathe. If we are stressed and hunched forward, we are taking shallow and inefficient breaths.
The brain and body does not get as much oxygen when we are in this posture, making the feeling of stress worse.
Stress can maintain the pain caused by a previous injury
A considerable amount of people that experience chronic back pain have a previous mechanical injury.
While the injury can cause them great pain, this pain continues much longer than one would expect.
Researchers do not completely understand why some people recover why some people recover quickly while others experience pain for years.
There is some evidence that changes in the brain can maintain the pain. The experience of an injury and the recovery from it can be extremely painful and demoralizing.
When injured, we do not have the same amount of freedom that we previously had. We may be confined to a bed. We may not be able to do the activities that we love. We may have to rely on the care of another person. We may not be able to produce the work that we were previously able to produce. All of this can be deeply stressful.
This stress can add to the pain making it last longer than it normally would. At the same time, the pain itself can make you even more stressed. One leads to the other and causes maintenance of the pain.
This is how an injury can form a vicious cycle between stress and pain. With this cycle, the only way to get rid of the back pain completely is to treat the stress.
In conclusion, it is entirely possible for stress to worsen back pain or even cause it. Stress can lead to generalized muscle tension, poor posture, and maintain pain from a previous injury.
It is important to remember that there are many reasons that you may be experiencing back pain. Sprains and spinal disc degeneration are some of the most common causes.
Back pain could also be a sign of a serious medical issue such as a tumor. Because of this, it is important to get a proper diagnosis from a doctor.
My hope is that you can see how treating the stress may provide some degree of relief if you have back pain issues that have not been resolved by other medical treatments.
If you want to learn some quick ways that you can start managing your stress, check out my article about reducing stress from work. In it, you will learn 3 simple relaxation exercises that you can do in 10 minutes or less that can reduce your stress.
Let me know if you or someone you know is experiencing low back pain and how it has affected your life. Is there anything that you have tried at home that has been particularly effective for it that you think others should try out?