Stress and Back Pain
Stress is what you feel when you have to handle more than you are used to. Some stress is normal and even useful. Stress can help if you need to work hard or react quickly. But if stress happens too often or lasts too long, it can cause health problems.
What is the connection between stress and back pain?
We all "hold" stress in different ways. Some people hold stress in their minds. They may worry so much about a problem that they can't think clearly.
If you hold stress in your body, it can affect your back. You may start to tense your back muscles, which can trigger back pain or make it worse.
Stress and back pain can create a vicious circle. You have back pain, and you start to worry about it. This causes stress, and your back muscles begin to tense. Tense muscles make your back pain worse, and you worry more … which makes your back worse … and so on.
How can you reduce stress?
Stress is a part of life. But it doesn't have to control your life. Even if sometimes you can't avoid stress, you can build skills to respond to it in a healthy way. Here are a few ideas.
- Find healthy ways to cope.
Try activities that reduce stress, like meditation, deep breathing, physical activity, and making art. New behaviors take time to develop. Try doing one thing at a time.
- Make time for joy.
Do what makes you feel happy, excited, and energized. This could be reading a book, playing with your dog, or seeing friends. You might schedule this ahead of time by putting it on your to-do list or calendar.
- Unplug from devices.
Think about taking time to do this each day. Try setting limits on when you use devices. For example, try avoiding social media and email before 7:00 a.m. and after 8:00 p.m. Setting your phone to "do not disturb" or using apps that track or block your screen time can help. Make rules that feel right to you.
- Write it out.
Try writing down thoughts and feelings about a stressful experience. Set aside time each day to write about it. Write nonstop and don't screen your thoughts—give yourself permission to write what comes to mind.
- Get support.
Everyone needs help sometimes. Ask others how they find support. You might also want to see a counselor who is trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The counselor can help you create and use skills to cope with stress.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine