Can Mental Health Issues Cause Back Pain?

You’re constantly stressed out, sad, don’t want to spend time with loved ones, and have developed bad eating and lifestyle habits. As a result, you’ve become a homebody and ignored your physical fitness. Now, your back has started hurting, and you wonder: Is there a connection?

What is Back Pain?

Back pain is a leading reason people seek medical care or miss work. It can even cause issues for school-age children.

Back pain intensity ranges from a dull, continuous ache to an unexpected, sharp, or shooting discomfort. It can happen suddenly due to an accident or by lifting a heavy object, or back pain can appear over time as people age. Lack of exercise followed by a strenuous workout can trigger pain.

What Causes Back Pain?

There can be many reasons, including:

  • Muscle or ligament strain caused by continual heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement.
  • Bulging or ruptured disks. Disks work as cushions between the bones in your spine but cause pain if they bulge, rupture, and press on a nerve.
  • Osteoarthritis can trigger lower back pain. This can happen due to narrowing the area around your spinal cord, otherwise known as a disorder called spinal stenosis.
  • Osteoporosis also causes back pain.

How to Prevent Back Pain

  • Exercise regularly. Consistent low-impact aerobics, including activities that don’t strain or shock your back, can build strength and endurance and allow your muscles to work better. Good options include walking and swimming.
  • Try building muscle strength and flexibility around your core, allowing muscles to work in unison like a natural girdle for your back.
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight as added pounds put extra strain on your back muscles.
  • Stop using nicotine products, which can lead to worse problems.

What are the Risks?

  • The first instance of low back pain typically happens when someone’s between 30- and 50-years-old and the pain becomes more common with advancing age.
  • Back pain is more common among people who are not physically fit.
  • Being overweight or quickly packing on the pounds can add stress to the back and cause lower back pain.
  • Genetics.
  • Physically intensive work.
  • Mental health.
  • Poor lifestyle like unhealthy eating habits or nicotine use.

Can Mental Health Issues Cause Back Pain?

Lower back pain is the number two reason for disability in America. More than 80 percent of people will have back pain at some time in their lives. The most common triggers are disc injuries, lifting something heavy, sciatica, or other non-specific back injuries. But mental health issues also can lead to back pain.

If your mobility is limited, this can trigger psychological distress, which can, in turn, make the pain worse. Your coping strategies and personal health views can influence distress levels and the progression of the pain. For instance, someone who’s anxiety-prone expects the worst, and suffers from catastrophic thinking, may experience worse back pain than another person who feels differently. Why? Because psychological vulnerabilities can alter your brain and amplify the pain.

Pre-existing psychological attitudes sometimes coexist with abnormalities in how brain chemistry is controlled, especially regarding dopamine, and “normal” brain functions related to anxiety, emotional control, and attention, can also be disturbed. This results in a vicious circle as your pain becomes all-encompassing.

But there’s more to worsening pain than just pre-existing attitudes. The pain acts by rewiring biological circuits in your brain. When pain first occurs, it affects the pain-sensitivity brain circuits. “But when pain lasts, the related brain activity switches away from the “pain” circuits to circuits that process emotions. That’s why emotions like anxiety often take center stage in chronic back pain. And it’s why emotional control becomes that much more difficult.”

Ketamine is known to strengthen connections between brain regions necessary for the production and control of dopamine, which could explain how it can alleviate depression.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you suffer from back pain, mental health issues, or both, it’s essential to understand what’s triggering the discomfort and seek ways to minimize it. The first step is diagnosis. Your healthcare provider may recommend certain tests to diagnose back pain, while a mental health specialist is best equipped to help you work through issues leading to depression or another condition. A mental health evaluation will compare your symptoms to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders before the final diagnosis.

Back pain can be treated with medicine, pain relievers, or physical therapy. Depression or other mental illnesses often respond to psychotherapy, antidepressants, or ketamine therapy.

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