Can Stress Cause Back Pain?
It was not long ago that stress and emotional state of mind were linked to back pain by only the more esoteric health practitioners. However, recent research seems to suggest that there is a definite link and there’s hard science to back that up; stress not only can cause back pain but can amplify that pain and impede recovery. Let’s look at the science and (just as importantly) what we can do to use this information to aid the recovery from back pain.
When we are stressed the part of the brain called the amygdala is stimulated and creates various changes in the hypothalamus and brain stem. Essentially, our primitive survival reflex takes over and channels all our energy and blood supply to the muscles that help us fight or run away (fight or flight). These muscles are the bigger ones, such as those for running e.g. thigh, buttock etc. The smaller stabilising muscles are not deemed a priority and, along with the digestive system, are minimised. Also blood pressure and heart rate is raised.
Think about prehistoric times when a caveman spots a tiger coming his way – his priority is to ensure survival, so all energy is directed to running away. Once this has been achieved, the survival mechanism should be shut down and normalcy returns. Unfortunately, modern society has left us in a constant state of stress so that back pain, irritable bowel syndrome and elevated blood pressure is not uncommon.
Pain perception is also very much a function of the brain and can be affected by stress and emotional states. The traditional model of pain being caused by damage to human tissues (e.g. muscles) is being questioned by experts.
It appears the brain merely needs to perceive the potential threat of tissue damage, whether this results in injury or not. Thus the perception of an event is important in pain levels, and perception can be influenced by stress and emotional state.
Once the condition has become chronic, for instance back pain for over 3 months, a unique set of circumstances occur that make it a lot harder to resolve. Firstly, the pain often leads us to reduce activity which leads to further stiffness in the back and weakness of the surrounding spinal muscles.
Also we often develop a fear of causing more pain through movement and exercise. The generally deteriorating situation causes worry about what the future holds, particularly the impact of not being able to do everyday activities such as work, sports etc. Unfortunately, these negative emotions can create a vicious cycle of a worsening condition.
The answer to these problems is multi-factorial but the easiest solution is to deal with any back pain as soon as possible to avoid chronicity. Failing that , identify and reduce negative stresses in your life. Also find a chiropractor who is willing to act as a coach to prescribe exercises that are within your capability but create enough exertion to build up your endurance and strength. The chiropractor should also be encouraging, to help you engage in the exercise but also inspire confidence when you have minor niggles and aches. In your process of recovery it is essential that you slowly build up confidence in being more active.
Perhaps most importantly it is necessary to realise that chronic pain can lead to a down turn in your emotional state and increase in anxiety which can lead to vicious cycle of deterioration.
To discuss any aspect of this blog, or any concerns you may have in regards to stress and its impact on your back pain, please phone 0113 2289888 to speak to either myself or another fully qualified chiropractor in our team.
B.Sc Chiro D.C (Aust) M.C.C C.S.C.P