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4 simple tips for managing stress-related back pain

Can Stress Cause Back Pain
3 minutes, 54 seconds

An estimated 540 million people across the world experience back pain every day. A large portion of these people may experience back pain that can be traced back to stress. In the U.S., one survey reported that almost 30% of participants believed their back pain was caused by their stress. Stress-related back pain is not often diagnosed by physicians, or at least not right away. Health care providers who prefer to take a more holistic approach to patient care are more likely to recognize the impact that stress can have on the body. This includes the kind of care provided by physical therapists all across the country, who are trained to account for a variety of environmental factors affecting your physical health.

Can stress cause back pain?

In short, yes, it can! However, stress doesn’t cause back pain directly. It typically isn’t the reason your back is hurting, but stress can lead to changes in your physical health that cause you back pain. Stress and anxiety are known to cause shifts in behavior that affect physical health. 

Many patients experience lower back pain for a variety of different reasons, but it’s important to get to the source of the conditions that may be causing you pain. Unfortunately, stress as a cause of back pain is often one of the last determinations that many primary physicians make. For this reason, it’s often overlooked during a patient’s diagnosis. A patient may receive medication or treatment for whatever is causing pain in their back, but the stress is not addressed. When the stress remains unaddressed, the pain is likely to return.

In what ways does stress relate to back pain?

  • Changes in posture — Stress can cause negative changes in posture, which can lead to back pain over time. You may forget to keep your back properly aligned and pay less attention to it when your mind is occupied, but when you forget to keep good posture you put yourself at risk of conditions that can develop as a result of that poor posture. These include muscle pain, a herniated disc and sciatica. 
  • Changes in physical activity levels — Another thing that is common among people dealing with high stress levels is that their physical activity levels may fluctuate or even sharply decline. When you’re stressed, it may seem like the last thing you have time to do is some sort of physical activity, but this is really important. When you stop exercising, you put your back more at risk for muscle strains and atrophy.
  • Increased muscle tension — Unmanaged stress can increase muscle tension in the body. Stress can lead to pain in the back when not dealt with because it triggers the body’s “fight or flight” mode. It signals to your muscles that they need to protect your body, and this can result in extreme muscle tightness that can be painful or, at the very least, very uncomfortable. Not to mention when muscle tension is recurring and untreated, it can become cyclical and create even more stress.

What are some effective ways to manage stress-related back pain?

  • Exercise regularly — One of the best ways to effectively manage back pain if it’s being caused by stress is to make sure to get regular exercise. Maintaining your physical health is best done through regular movement. Not only can consistent exercise help prevent back pain by strengthening your muscles and other tissue, but it can also help increase endorphins and reduce stress hormones. 
  • Stretch more — Stretching is another great way to manage stress-related back pain. This method can help relieve muscle tension and soreness throughout the whole body. Stretching has also been shown to increase serotonin levels, which can help lower depression and anxiety. 
  • Soft tissue manipulation — Soft tissue manipulation can aid in easing muscle tension. When done by an experienced physical therapist, it can be extremely beneficial for your body tissue not only because it loosens tight muscles but also because it’s another method of triggering good hormones that ward off stress.
  • Address stress triggers — This tip may be one of the most difficult for some to follow. It may not always be possible to avoid the things that cause you stress in life, but when it is, it can be helpful for your mental and physical health. It may be beneficial to take a moment and assess what your stress triggers are and how you can reduce them as much as possible, to ultimately reduce the stress causing your back pain.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for back pain caused by stress

At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address back pain caused by stress. 

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Contact our team today so we can help you find the most effective physical therapy services for your injury or condition.

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