Myth or not: Can back pain be caused by stress?

There have been multiple medical studies over the past 100 years that have identified that back pain may be related to stress, in addition to that there have been several news articles and tv specials that have also backed this claim. So how much of this is true?

The first factor to consider in back pain related to stress is that pain related to stress should be a primary factor. This means that the type of stress related to back pain has to be serious and in the chronic category. The stress related back pain diagnosis is medically called “psychosomatic” or a “psycho-physiological” one. A psycho-physiological is defined as an illness which is any illness in which physical symptoms are thought to be the direct result of psychological or emotional factors.

When we look back in time, the foundation of stress related back pain actually goes all the way back to the early 1820’s and was popularized by Dr. John Sarno who is a physician at the New York University. In most theories of stress related back pain, the pain cycle continues and is exacerbated as the pain leads to the patient becoming timid and anxious about daily activities. The pain cycle is characterized by:

  • The patient becomes unnecessarily limited in many functions of daily life, as well as leisure activities
  • This decrease in activities is due to the patient’s fear of the pain and injury
  • This fear may be made worse by admonitions from doctors (and/or family and friends) to “take it easy” due to some structural diagnosis (which may actually have nothing to do with the back pain)
  • The limitations in movement and activity lead to physical de-conditioning and muscle weakening, which in turn leads to more back pain

Dr. Sarno’s research is a proven medical theory that stress does indeed cause back pain and can be classified as a primary cause. So the next time your chiropractor or physician tells you that these symptoms are not real you can tell them to refer to Dr. Sarno’s research and many other articles online that outline it as being a primary back pain factor in cases. In conclusion it’s always good to remember that back pain is a multi-factor health issue and there can always be multiple primary causes for it, it’s never a good idea to rule out one cause over the other without carrying out prior research on your overall symptoms.

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