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Your boss is constantly changing your deadlines. Your kids have a hundred different appointments throughout the week. Your spouse is demanding that you pay better attention to their needs. No matter what your exact situation is, most people are exposed to some source of chronic stress. Unfortunately, this constant stress may be impacting more than just your mental health.
Researchers are finding that there is a clear link between your chronic stress and your chronic back pain. High anxiety levels can impact how your body functions and responds to every day minutiae. The way your mind works could determine how much pain you will experience and how intense that pain will be. Chronic stress can easily be correlated with back problems that require professional intervention.
If you aren’t sure how your high-stress lifestyle relates to your back pain, it’s time to take a closer look.
Is it All in your Head?
Your actual thought process can also contribute to the amount of pain that you experience as a result of stress. Harvard Health claims that your chronic back pain may actually be linked to your thought processes. Your health beliefs and coping skills can dictate just how much stress you are under and what that will do to the course of your pain. Research shows that people who are naturally anxious and are prone to think the worst in every situation often have higher levels of pain.
If you tend toward anxiety in your daily life, you might be able to reduce your pain levels by modifying your thought process. Performing mindfulness exercises designed for anxiety can be a great way to modify your body’s stress response. Other types of helpful psychological intervention can include:
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy
- Hypnosis for anxiety
The Effects of Stress on the Muscular System
The human body is designed to respond to stress. Centuries ago, humans would experience stress and move directly into a fight-or-flight response. You may not have the exact same experience that the early humans had when it comes to stress, but your body still remembers what to do with your anxiety. The muscular system is one of the first parts of your body to respond to stress or chronic anxiety.
When your boss moves up your deadlines or you burn dinner, you naturally experience a higher level of stress. Your muscles are the first to respond by tensing up. According to the American Psychological Association, this is considered to be almost a reflex reaction aimed to guard you against injury or pain. Unfortunately, this response may actually be the cause of your back pain.
One study aimed to measure the connection between stress and muscle tension in patients who reported chronic back pain. Scientists discovered that thinking about or talking about a stressful event served to dramatically increase tension in the muscular system surrounding the spine.
Some stressors pass relatively quickly, allowing your muscles to relax once again. On the other hand, some people are exposed to chronic stress that does not allow their muscular system to relax for an extended period of time. You may hold this muscle tension in any area of your musculoskeletal system, including:
- Lower back
- Upper back
Holding muscle tension in these areas of the body can lead to chronic pain. It may take the form of a sore upper back, a tender low back, or chronic migraines. No matter where your body tends to store its anxiety, you are likely to experience the side effects of chronic stress patterns.
Chronic Stress Means Chronic Inflammation
When you experience high levels of stress, your body begins to produce increased levels of a chemical known as cortisol. This hormone tells your body to start utilizing stored energy in the cells and reduces the amount of inflammation in the body. It has been found that long-term exposure to stressful situations could lead to cortisol dysfunction.
Moving into a state of cortisol dysfunction can lead to widespread inflammation throughout the body. Many patients are already experiencing tense muscles as a result of their anxiety and stress, but this adds another layer. Cortisol dysfunction can leave these muscles feeling tense and lead to actual inflammation that makes them even more tender. This is how chronic back pain develops.
Confronting the stress in your life is beneficial if you want to reduce the risk of cortisol dysfunction. You may attempt to utilize coping skills or other strategies to reduce the amount of stress you feel on a daily basis. This can get your cortisol production back under control and reduce the inflammation in your musculoskeletal system.
Reducing Stress Can Lower Pain
Experts are starting to understand the clear link between back pain and emotional distress. This is why they may recommend treatments that include stretching, strength training, and even different forms of therapy such as expressive writing. You should also consider enlisting the help of an experienced chiropractor. A chiropractic adjustment can help to realign the spine and release tension from the muscles surrounding the vertebrae.
It is also helpful to incorporate massage therapy into a well-rounded treatment program. One study demonstrated that structural and relaxation massages were more effective at treating low back pain than the usual care approach. It helps to relax your entire body and can relieve some of the muscle tension found in patients suffering from chronic stress. This complementary therapy can make a huge difference for many chiropractic patients.
No matter what your source of stress is, it is likely wreaking havoc on your body. One of the most common signs of chronic stress is consistent back pain. You must find a way to control your stress and anxiety if you want your chronic back pain to disappear. Consider reaching out to your local chiropractor for a consultation to determine the first steps toward healing. They can give you the advice you need to find some immediate relief from back problems caused by chronic stress.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells is one of the leading chiropractors in Alaska and founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab. A native of California, he holds a doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College in Oregon. He is a member of the American Chiropractic Association. In his free time, he enjoys volunteering, hiking, and spending time with his family.