Stress and back pain

01st Jul 2018

Stress and back pain

Up to 90 per cent of Australians experience back pain at some time according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Although there may be numerous underlying causes, many people anecdotally report that stress often triggers their back pain.


How stress hurts your back

Stress and anxiety are bad news for backs. They can cause:

  • Muscle tension, which itself can trigger pain in many areas of the back. Exercise such as walking, yoga and simply stretching, can provide relief. Exercise also helps burn stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, further reducing your anxiety levels.
  • An increase in inflammatory chemicals that can cause or worsen back pain.
  • Poor posture: Stress often leads people to adopt a hunched-over position, unconsciously protecting their vital organs. To avoid shoulder slumping, pay attention to where your breastbone ends and where there is a gap, try to gently lift and open and your shoulders will widen. At the same time, consciously lift your ribcage upwards to avoid slumping in your lower back.

Regardless of whether you think stress is causing your back pain, it’s a good idea to have your back properly checked by a GP or physio to rule out any other underlying medical causes.

Alleviating back pain

If you are suffering back pain from stress and anxiety, it can be helpful to combine numerous treatments. These include anti-inflammatory medications, pain-relieving drugs, hot and cold packs, massage, gentle physio and motion exercises. If pain is severe, you may also need for a time to wear a soft brace corset for support.

Stay mobile to avoid muscle stiffness, which can further exacerbate back pain. Try some deep water walking in a pool so you can move while reducing the impact of gravity on your back. Meanwhile, until your back mends, avoid doing any heavy lifting and that includes picking up young children!


Keeping your back healthy

Many things you do every day can leave your back more prone to pain if you are anxious or stressed. To avoid these back strainers:

  • Avoid weight gain: Carrying extra kilos puts great strain on your back adding more weight to shift pivotal scaffolding structure that supports your head, neck, shoulders, arms, pelvis and ribcage.
  • Workout with good technique: See an exercise physiologist for advice on the best back-friendly exercises. They can also offer advice on other exercises such as squats at the gym so you maintain best form for your back health.
  • Sleep right: Don’t sleep in a curled up position and avoid too many pillows.
  • Lift carefully: Bend at the knees, not the waist. Bring the object as close as you can to your body and keeping your back straight, use the power in your legs for the lift.

About Dr Richard Parkinson

Dr Richard Parkinson is a Fellowship trained neurointerventional neurosurgeon and minimally invasive spinal surgeon based in Sydney. He has been performing minimally invasive and complex spinal surgery for 18+ years and has built his reputation on his conservative approach to surgery. He operates at Sydney’s leading private hospitals and has performed surgery on a very significant volume of patients requiring both straight-forward and complex spine surgery. Read his full biography here.