Did you know that stress can actually cause back pain? It’s true – being stressed out or emotionally distressed can actually cause your back to hurt. While it’s generally accepted that stress can cause an existing injury to feel worse, most people don’t realize that emotional factors can actually bring on a short-term injury and open the door to more serious, longer-term injuries.
How does stress cause back pain?
There are a couple of theories about the relationship between stress and back pain. Most theories revolve around a few key principles:
- Most people hold tension in their neck, shoulders and upper back. The tension causes muscles in these areas to constrict, in turn squeezing blood vessels and slowing blood flow to the back.
- The lack of blood flow allows toxins to build and causes cells to die. Your body sends pain signals to let you know there’s a problem.
- The pain adds another layer of stress to the situation, causing the individual to continue to hold tension in the neck and shoulders.
- The cycle repeats and worsens over time.
If the muscles in your back don’t get enough blood flow for a prolonged amount of time, they can begin to weaken. Once your muscles weaken, injuries like sprains and strains, herniated discs and pinched nerves become more likely.
Stopping the stress and back pain cycle
If the cycle described above sounds familiar, you need to break the cycle before it breaks you. Here are some strategies you might use to cut down on stress and reduce back pain as well:
- Try to avoid personal stress triggers as much as possible. If some things – like the guy in the next cubicle who clips his fingernails at his desk, for example – are unavoidable, try to find strategies to minimize the impact. In this example, you might bring a personal music player to drown out the sound of the clippers.
- Pay attention to your body and check in every now and then with how you feel. If you notice tension creeping into your shoulders and neck, try doing some stretches or relaxation exercises to release those muscles.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and other substances that might contribute to stress levels.
- Divert yourself. If you feel stress building, take a break with a good book, a favorite website or TV show or a relaxing hobby.
If you’re someplace where those things aren’t accessible, try closing your eyes and imagining something pleasant, like a favorite get-away spot.
Stress-related back pain affects most of us at one time or another. By taking some simple steps to become aware of and combat stress triggers, you can help stop the condition before it seriously impacts your life.