Can Stress Cause Back Pain?

There are a variety of reasons that can cause chronic back pain. There are physical and psychological causes that are manifested in severe back pain. When you feel the numbing ache in your back, it doesn’t always mean that a few massage and therapy sessions will solve it. Sometimes, the problem goes beyond deeper than physical pain.

Physically, back pain can be caused by muscle or ligament strain, ruptured disks, skeletal irregularities, osteoporosis, and arthritis. These conditions are easy to diagnose. The right doctor can prescribe medication and treatment for a herniated disc in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Most of the time, doctor-prescribed treatment and medication will solve the problem easily.

The Pain Cycle

In the medical field, it is widely believed and researched that some emotional and psychological factors cause physical change that results in back pain. Sometimes, the pain will start small and should not have led to major issues. But because of the deconditioning of the mind, the pain is exacerbated.

When there is back pain, a patient tends to stop all strenuous and physical activity. A patient may even stop leisure activities. The decrease in activities is because of a patient’s fear of pain and injury, which is made worse by admonitions from doctors, friends, and families. When a patient stops the activities that make them happy, stress will soon follow. Based on medical studies, stress is one of the biggest factors of back pain.

Back Pain Associated with the Patient’s Feelings and Personality

man holding his back at work because of pain

Dr. John Sarno, a physician and professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the New York University, conducted a study on stress-related back pain, which he calls “Tension Myositis Syndrome.” The theory is that back pain may not always be caused by mechanical or physical factors. Instead, it may be because of a patient’s emotions, personality, and unconscious issues. This kind of back pain can likely happen to people with type A personality.

These people are those who are exceedingly driven to succeed, shouldering a lot of responsibilities and criticizing themselves a lot. They are also perfectionists and compulsive. Combined with a stressful situation in life, these personalities can experience and suffer from back pain.

Looking Back at the History of Stress-related Back Pain

The concept of stress-related back pain first appeared in the 1820s when it was called “spinal irritation.” In “From Paralysis to Fatigue,” Dr. Edward Shorter said that doctors made the diagnosis back then even without pathological evidence and logic. He added that doctors would make patients think of a disease related to their back pain as a way to recommend therapy and medication that are not particularly designed to treat what was ailing the patient.

This was happening because doctors needed to compete with other medical clinics. Instead of digging into the cause of the patient’s back pain, they medicalize their ill-defined subjective complaints. As for patients, this way of diagnosing also gives their “illness” a name instead of admitting that there are psychological reasons at play for their back pain.

The next time you suffer from back pain and there is no physical cause that can be detected, look into your psychological and emotional health. If there are a lot of stressors in your life lately, you can start by eliminating and addressing them. Sometimes, all it takes is good communication and a nice vacation to de-stress and recharge.

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