Stress and Depression Influence Back Pain

Whether you are a weekend warrior or exercise moderately on most days, beginning as young as age 30, adults may start to feel the signs of spine aging and arthritis.  And according to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the leading cause of disability preventing people from working and enjoying everyday activities. Many older adults don’t talk with their doctor about chronic low back pain, believing there is nothing that can be done, but there are several integrated therapies that may help. 

Some back pain is caused by physical damage such as a protruding disk or broken vertebrae but often older adults who suffer back problems will find their pain worsens with stress.   Our perception of pain can also change with age and be influenced by anxiety or depression.  According to a recent Harvard Health Blog, psychological distress can influence the intensity of pain; catastrophic thinking can actually worsen pain.  It’s important to talk with your doctor about any pain that persists longer than 3 months.  

Chronic pain can also cause the brain to rewire itself, switching away from pain circuits to circuits that process emotion.  Anxiety often becomes a paramount emotion for people with ongoing pain, making it difficult to control emotions and allowing pain to become all-consuming.  However, studies have shown that mindfulness-based stress reduction can help lessen back pain and improve emotional control.  Cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis and progressive muscle relaxation have also been shown to help with low back pain. 

Years ago, bed rest was often prescribed to people with back pain but newer research finds that activity is more effective for reducing pain.  Keeping active with walking, yoga or swimming can lower the risk for back pain.  But always talk with your health care provider before starting any new exercise program. 

Learn more about relaxation techniques for back pain by following this link to a recent article in the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care journal.