Could Stress and Anxiety Be Causing Your Chronic Back Pain?

Stress and anxiety—everyone deals with it to some extent. At times, however, stress can cause adverse health effects. Emotional side effects of stress can be depression and panic attacks, while physical effects can include heart palpitations, high blood pressure, digestive issues and even back pain.

People dealing with chronic pain feel desperate to find a solution. Knowing the way stress affects the back is the first step toward finding a solution to one’s pain.

Identifying the Two Types of Stress That Can Impact Back Health

Before going into how stress affects the back, it’s important to first understand that there are two types of stress that can have an impact on the health of a person’s back.

  1. Physical Stress
    Certain physical activities put stress on the body and can contribute to back pain. Things like:
  • Carrying a heavy purse, backpack or briefcase
  • Poor posture
  • Bad form while exercising
  • Avoiding exercise – cardio, weight training and stretching/flexibility exercises are all important
  • Aging
  • High heeled shoes
  • A bad, sagging mattress

All of these things, if not remedied, can result in chronic back pain.

  1. Emotional and/or Psychological Stress
    Emotional stress can have an immense impact on your back. For years, many considered stress and anxiety to be secondary causes of pain. The common thought was that pain was always the result of something physical. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people who suffer from stress, depression and anxiety often suffer with pain as well. They also mention that back pain, specifically, is experienced more often by people dealing with emotional or psychological stress than those who don’t.

How Stress and Anxiety Can Impact the Health of a Person’s Back

Accepting that one’s emotions can be a main factor in their back pain can be hard to accept at first because we’ve thought otherwise for so long. But, more evidence is pointing to the back pain-stress correlation because of the following.

  • Stress causes tension: When a person is under stress, their muscles tighten up considerably. This is particularly noticeable in the muscles of the head, neck and shoulders. Tensing the muscles of the upper body puts pressure on those of the lower body. Massage therapists will concur—people with high anxiety will have the tightest, most knotted muscles, resulting in more daily pain.
  • Postural changes: Going through a stressful period changes a person’s posture. During the fight or flight response, the body’s muscles not only tense up, they tense up in an improper position. This position is generally one of self-protection and preservation: slumped over as if the weight of the world were on one’s shoulders, or like they’re trying to protect their abdominal area.
  • Stress, anxiety and depression can lead to inactivity: Emotional stress puts people in a major energy slump. Just getting through the day is hard enough; forget about exercise! The resulting inactivity leads to inflexibility, strain and muscle soreness.

Significantly Decrease the Occurrence of Back Pain with Stress Reduction

People don’t have to suffer with back pain, especially if it’s related to stress and anxiety. With help from a therapist, physical therapist and chiropractor people can find ways to reduce physical and emotional stressors. Working to reduce the stress is one of the best ways to reduce pain and promote overall health and wellbeing.

If you’re experiencing chronic back pain and suspect it may be due to high levels or stress or anxiety, contact us right away. We can provide the support you need and recommend ways to reduce your stress and treat your back pain effectively.

How to avoid strained relationships when dealing with chronic back pain

Chronic back pain does not only affect an individual’s life and force them to deal with pain every day, it also affects their relationships with their family, friends, their spouse and their children. Interactions with these people in their lives can be changed in both small and large ways as a result of not only the physical limitations but the emotional struggles that come with this type of pain.

The Connection Between Pain and Emotion

When back pain becomes chronic it becomes more than a physical feeling. Emotions become affected too. Every facet of daily life is impacted. Many people with chronic back pain are unable to sleep well and some even lose their appetite. Inability to perform certain tasks can be stressful for the individual, leading to irritability, anxiety and depression. Pain affects an individual’s thoughts and feelings, and is not just physical. The worse the pain is, the more it can affect emotion.

According to Web MD, the emotional and physical stress of living with chronic pain causes almost a third of people in constant pain to become clinically depressed. Approximately 75% of individuals who are receiving treatment for depression report physical symptoms such as pain. Since pain can lead to emotional stress, emotional stress can also cause pain. Limited movement and emotional stress can affect the individual’s personal relationships in the following ways.

Stronger Bonds

Some people with chronic back pain experience improvements in their relationships, particularly with a spouse or partner, because they are facing a challenge together. Some couples work and do research together on various treatments or specialists available. They may spend more time together going to health appointments or staying at home. Some people with chronic back pain are fortunate to have spouses, partners, friends and family that come together to make their life easier and more manageable, resulting in stronger bonds being formed in their relationships.

However, many people are not so fortunate.

Chronic Back Pain can Disrupt Relationships

  • Lack of Support from Friends and Family.

    As mentioned earlier, those who suffer with persistent back pain are extremely likely to become unhappy and distressed. This can cause tension to build up in their relationships, especially with a spouse, a partner or a caregiver. Some caregivers become overwhelmed by their loved one’s suffering and sadness, and have challenges providing support. This tends to leave the person in pain feeling like they are not receiving enough support, and thus begins a cycle. Persistent back pain can disrupt relationships by limiting what couples can do together, as well as affect the quality of time spent together. Something else that may cause lack of support is that the care-giving partner may simply not realize the extent of the back pain the person is feeling. If the person with the back pain continues to perform activities as usual or if they do not communicate their distress, the care-giver may not realize their partner’s need for support. They simply assume the person is alright.


  • Back Pain and Negative Thinking.

    Many people who suffer with persistent back pain begin to feel and think negatively about their lives and relationships. This often results in added tension and stress which can leave both partners frustrated and angry. The caregiver may find it difficult to deal with their partner’s negativity and sadness, and may be unsure of how to provide support. The person in pain may start to feel like they are not receiving sufficient support or encouragement and so the vicious cycle of unmet needs begins again.


  • Poor Communication Between Both Parties.

    The person living with this back pain has to be able to sufficiently convey their level of pain to the caregiver partner. Poor communication may result in the caregiver partner underestimating or overestimating their back pain, causing them to provide the support their partner needs. Frequent under- and over-estimation, as well as exaggeration of pain, increases the chances of needs not being met, as well as frustration or anger. Misunderstandings, disagreements and negative feelings can creep up over time causing both parties to become withdrawn.


How to Improve Relationships When Chronic Back Pain is Involved

  • Find a Way to Communicate Better.

    People living with continuous back pain have to find a way to effectively communicate how they are feeling. People tend to feel estranged from those who suffer with persistent back pain if that person remains silent. At the same time, giving out too much information can cause them to feel helpless, depressed or overwhelmed. A communication balance should be found, keeping in mind that each person is different.

  • Continue to Interact with Friends and Family.

    People suffering from back pain should not let it affect the time they spend with family and friends. They should strike a balance between pain management and constant activity and avoid cancelling plans with the people in their lives.

  • Household Responsibilities.

    Even though people with back pain are unable to perform the heavy duty chores around the house, they can still take on other more manageable chores that are easier on the back. This will show friends and family a willingness to contribute to the household, and will keep the individual feeling positive about being active in the home.

  • Ask for Help When Needed.

    Sometimes people are unsure of how to help their loved one who is in pain as they fear they may offend them. Giving family and friends the opportunity to help can make them feel useful and more helpful. There is no need for the individual with back pain to suffer in silence when help can be given.


Chronic back pain can be extremely frustrating. How an individual deals with managing their pain and its physical and emotional effects determines whether they control the pain – or it controls them. Open communication – on both sides – with family and friends can help significantly. Assumptions can causes rifts and frustration between people. Back pain is frustrating on its own, so having and maintaining a healthy support system is crucial.