Low Back Pain and Anxiety, Depression, & Mental Health

Low Back Pain and Anxiety, Depression, & Mental Health

Our body is interconnected.

This means that there’s usually more than meets the eye, and the sources of some symptoms can come from surprising places. What goes on in our minds has a much more significant impact on the well-being of our body than we realize.

Mental and physical health go hand in hand, so looking after one will nurture the other, and vice versa. If you’re suffering from low back pain and you’re not too sure why it’s worth exploring avenues that relate to your stress and anxiety levels. You never know what you might discover.


Low Back Pain & Anxiety

You would be surprised at how closely you can correlate low back pain and anxiety.

Calm Clinic discusses the how anxiety causes back pain. They believe that the cause of back pain from anxiety is primarily secondary. This means that while anxiety doesn’t directly cause your low back pain, it can exacerbate behaviours that lead to it. Let’s take a look at three separate issues caused by anxiety that can result in low back pain:


Posture Change

Anxiety can cause people to adjust their posture – if you once had good posture, you might have succumbed to slouched positions. These differences in the way the body carries itself, combined with the muscle tension that comes with having anxiety can cause the muscles to find themselves in unnatural positions and ultimately lead to low back pain.


Sedentary Lifestyle

Anxiety can also be a cause of change in people’s activity levels. There are direct links to a lack of physical activity and back pain. Lots of activity and exercise tends to give the body more mobility and less receptive to aches and pains. Sometimes these two issues can manifest together. However – a lack of activity can lead to anxiety so inactivity can either be a cause or effect.



Another issue that is closely related to anxiety is hypersensitivity. Those that suffer from anxiety tend to be more sensitive to otherwise normally occurring sensations in the body. Therefore, even the mildest of back pain that someone without anxiety wouldn’t consider uncomfortable might be a problem for somebody suffering from anxiety.

Calm Clinic says that it’s also worth remembering that somebody who is suffering from anxiety will overcompensate physically to avoid the pain in their back. This is counter-intuitive, however, and can lead to the back-pain worsening as they force the body into uncomfortable positions that only serve to increase the pain.


Low Back Pain & Depression

Mark Barnes of Telespine defines depression. He says that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is a mental illness that is caused by factors including genetic, environmental and physical. Depression can interfere with your quality of life and often goes hand in hand with other disorders, like eating and sleeping disorders.

Telespine cites a study conducted in Australia that concluded 61,200 cases of low back pain could be attributed to depression. People with depression were more likely to suffer from low back pain. The more severe the depression, the more intense the pain suffered.

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Let’s look at the connection between back pain and depression. The Spine Health Institute says that it can be easy to understand while somebody who suffers from chronic back pain might also have issues with depression. Chronic back pain is a debilitating condition that often doesn’t have a straightforward answer. This can lead to frustration, anger, and despair. Spine Health says that while it’s not hard to make the connection between back pain and depression, the other way around is lesser known but just as valid.

Body aches, such as low back pain, can be a common symptom of depression. Research has shown that people suffering from severe depression may feel pain more acutely than people who do not.

Another reason why low back pain is a suggested symptom of depression is that of a lack of exercise. When somebody is depressed and dealing with the kind of fatigue that prevents them from exercising regularly, they can be compromising the strength of their core muscles. We need strong core muscles to support ligaments, tendons, and bones correctly, so if our core muscles are weak, we could very well experience pain from the added stress.

Spine Health makes a point of reminding you that when you treat chronic low back pain, you might want to consider treating your depression too if it’s present. A lot of people have the misconception that if they get rid of the chronic pain, the depression will naturally disappear. Unfortunately, in most cases, the situation is a little more complicated than this. That’s why it’s good to treat both conditions at the same time to ensure you’re covering all bases and giving yourself the best chance of a full recovery.

William W. Deardorff of Spine Health covers another area of mental health that is closely associated with low back pain. Modern western culture encourages a fast-paced lifestyle that can bring with it high levels of daily stress. John Sarno, MD, of New York University has recently popularized the idea of stress-related back pain, explaining that this connection can be traced back a couple of centuries.

He defines this as a psychosomatic illness. Here is how stress causes back pain, as described through the Pain Cycle:

In most theories, around back pain being linked to stress levels of the body, it begins to form a cycle where one encourages the other. This is when the pain is exaggerated when it leads to the patient becoming hesitant and anxious about daily activities. It is characterized by:

  • The patient becomes limited in their daily lives both at work and in leisure
  • This decrease in physical activity is due to the patient’s fear of the pain and potential injury
  • This fear may be embellished by medical professional’s telling the patient to “rest up” and “take it easy” due to their diagnosis
  • These limitations in the patient’s access to physical activity leads to the weakening of the muscles around the problem area, which in turn results in more pain

Of course, this cycle only serves to cause more pain and fear that ultimately lead to the existence of mental illness like stress, anxiety, and depression.

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The body is a complex system of connections where some symptoms come out of the most unlikely of causes.

The more we learn about it, the more we can understand what is going on with our bodies when we suffer from issues like low back pain. This allows us to use the wealth of information that is available to get to the bottom of the problem and take the necessary steps to get back to good health.

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