Can stress cause back pain?  Below, we look at the ways stress can have negative effects on the back.

Most people suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Usually, it is caused by conditions such arthritis or by injuries to the spine.  But it can also be caused by stress. You probably think of stress as having mental and emotional effects. But stress-related tension also leads to physical problems including back pain.


Can Stress Cause Back Pain?

Symptoms of Stress-Related Back Pain

  • Aching muscles
  • Muscle tender points
  • Stiffness, soreness, spasm
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Lack of energy and fatigue
  • Pain when moving around.

What is Stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations – real or perceived. When you feel threatened, stress hormones are released in your body that stimulates you to act to avoid the danger. This is known as the “fight-or-flight,” response.

Physical changes happen to enable you to run or fight; your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, muscles tighten. and blood pressure rises. Our bodies are designed to handle small amounts of stress.  However, we are not able to handle long-term, chronic stress without ill consequences.

How Stress Causes Back Pain

The more stress you are under the tighter your muscles become. Muscle tension reduces blood flow which results in less oxygen and nutrients getting to the tissues. Any muscle or group of muscles can be affected, but upper, mid and lower back muscles are particularly sensitive to the effects of stress. Muscles can become so tense and tight that you feel stiffness, soreness and pain and you may have difficulty moving if they go into spasm.

Tense muscles make you more vulnerable to injury and you are less able to tolerate activities such as lifting objects.  When you’re stressed, you tend to become less active, sit for long periods of time, slouch and hunch your shoulders.   It is believed that such behaviours cause back pain.  Sometimes you may not be consciously aware that tension is building in your body. Unconscious tension causes changes in the body’s nervous system.  Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Your personality type is a key factor. Back pain is more common in people who are anxious or depressed or have mood disorders than those without them.

A vivacious circle of pain can arise with back pain. Tense back muscles can cause back pain, and when you’re in pain, you tend to tense your muscles.  In this way, stress and back pain feed into each other and create a cycle of suffering. If your back pain is severe or lasts more than a few days, see your doctor. Although stress can cause back pain, it is only one of many possible causes.

Stress has long been known to contribute to physical and mental health conditions.  Understanding the nature of stress is important for your health. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and infections are illnesses linked with stress. And can stress cause back pain?  Yes, that too.

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