Stress and Back Pain – What’s the Link?

Oct 6, 2013

Stress and back pain

It’s back care week this week (7-11 October) and we have been asked to go onto BBC Radio Manchester, Sam Walkers show.  They have asked us to talk about the causes of back pain and how it can be prevented.  It got us thinking about what we see most often in private practice.  We realised that stress and back pain often coincide.  It  is a huge contributing factor  in many of our patients.  However many of our patients aren’t aware of the connection between stress and back pain, or even that they are stressed.   The charity back care acknowledges that stress and back pain are linked  (directly or indirectly) in up to 90% of all cases.

Stress and back pain

Stress and Back Pain

So why this mis- match between patient’s perception of stress and back pain and the reality?  It made us think – how well are you at noticing when you’re stressed?

“I’m not stressed, I thrive on being busy” you may be thinking, but how well are you really coping?

Ask yourself – does this sound familiar?  You’re rushing around trying to get the kids ready for school, yourself ready for work; your mind is already ticking with the mental (or physical) “to do” list for the day.  Do you get to work and realise you left something at home that you needed for the day? Find yourself going without a proper lunch break so you can get away on time?  Then the journey home – why are there so many stupid drivers around, whose sole purpose in life is to annoy you and make you late?  You try to persuade your partner to give you aching shoulders a rub – to no avail. By the time you finally get to bed you’re exhausted, the day replays in your head and you start to think of all the things you need to get through tomorrow – mustn’t forget your youngest has their violin lesson and the oldest has swimming – you start to yawn, your eyes get heavy and finally sleep………

You may not think you’re stressed, but common everyday occurrences could be signs of stress:

  • thoughts racing through your head
  • feeling rushed
  • anxiety
  • being short tempered
  • struggling to sleep
  • lack of concentration
  • tension in your neck and shoulders

Read the scenario above again –can you see where signs of stress may be creeping in?  How much of it resonates with your own life? Ask yourself again – “Am I stressed?” Could my stress and back pain be linked?


How does stress affect my body?

Stress affects your general health, predisposing you to digestive problems, reduces the effectiveness of your immune system and increases your blood pressure and heart rate but it also has huge knock on effects for your muscles and joints.

When you’re stressed you tend to carry more tension in your neck, shoulders and jaw but also in your buttocks (check now – are you clenching?).  Increased tension in your muscles makes it more difficult for blood flow to get through (Think of a garden hose with a kink in it).  It’s the blood that delivers oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and joints to keep them healthy.  If blood flow is reduced, as a result of stress induced tension, then your muscles and joints are more prone to injury and won’t be able to heal as well either.  On top of this a lack of concentration means you are more likely to injure yourself playing sports, lift something incorrectly or fall into bad posture habits.  It’s only a matter of time before your body says enough is enough and back pain is the result.

Patients often say “ I can’t believe my back has gone into spasm now, it couldn’t be worse timing, I have so much to do”.  But often that is why the problem occurred in the first place.  Stress and back pain go hand in hand.  If you aren’t prepared to heed the warning signs and take some time out, sooner or later  your body forces you to stop – literally.  Acute pain is actually trying to do you a favour.  It is trying to tell you that your body isn’t coping with your current habits or lifestyle.  It is giving you an opportunity to change it!  Ignore these warning signs and you risk it happening more and more frequently.


What can I do to reduce stress and take care of my back?

So what can you do about reducing stress and back pain? – You have a busy life, family commitments and as much as you’d like to you can’t just quit the job and move to a yoga retreat in India.

Think of things that you enjoy and that make you feel relaxed.  This might be reading a book, going for a walk, taking some exercise, meeting a friend for a catch up, watching a funny film.  Whatever it is, try to do it more often.  You don’t always need to find extra time; you can incorporate a bike ride, walk or yoga class (a great way for parents and teenagers to spend time together) into activities you do as a family, a couple or with friends.

Regular exercise especially activities such as yoga, Pilates and swimming (front crawl/backstroke is best for you back) are great for  reducing stress and back pain relief. They can improve the strength, flexibility and health of your muscles and joints.

Stress and Back Pain

Stress and Back Pain

(Your stress may be caused by more complex circumstances than just the daily grind, such as illness of a loved one (or yourself), job pressures or relationship difficulties,  you may wish to seek more professional advice too such as counselling or mindfulness training).

Whatever you do; take the first positive steps today to reducing stress in your life.  If you’re suffering from aches and pains, don’t ignore them, your back is telling you it’s not coping. Listen to your back and look after it, it’s the only one you’ve got.

For more help or information give us a call for a chat or book an appointment for a check- up.  Identifying tensions and problems early can often prevent more acute episodes of pain.  We would be happy to advise about exercises, stretches and point you in the right direction to access reputable yoga, Pilates and counselling services in your area. Cheadle Osteopathy ……discover a healthier you  0161 4781877


Stress and back pain.


Talkback magazine – October 2013, Published by the Charity Back Care

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