The vicious cycle of stress and back pain – and what to do about it

Jun 22, 2018

Most of us have some element of stress or anxiety in our lives.  Whether caused by work, study, home life, family or health concerns.  This blog will look at the links between stress and back pain – how stress can contribute to back pain, discuss how stress because of back pain can make it worse, and what to do about it!

How does being stressed make our backs hurt??? 

  • When we are stressed or anxious, our muscles contract, increasing tension, and causing pain. 
  • Anxiety and stress cause our bodies to be more sensitive to pain because of the chemicals our body releases when we are stressed. 
  • We often don’t sleep well, our bodies don’t heal and recover properly – therefore pain continues 

The flip side – why back pain increases our stress…

  • Society’s perception of back pain is that it is more dangerous than other joint pains, less likely to get better, and more vulnerable.  Therefore, we worry more.  (as mentioned above, causing more muscle tension)
  • We worry about further damaging our sore backs, so we move in a stiff, guarded way.  Tense muscles cause pain, so we worry more, tense up even more…and so on. 













How to break the cycle

  1. Dispel the myth that back pain is more damaging than any other injury!  The stigma and fear around back pain is one of the reasons it can recur and become chronic.  The pain in our back often isn’t telling us that there is severe damage, rather it is our muscles tensing to protect it from perceived danger.  Once we understand this, we can start to relax and break the cycle of pain causing increased muscle tension and further pain.
  2. Breathe! Relax your shoulders and use the full capacity of your lungs.  This will get more oxygen to your muscles and get rid of waste products, decreasing excessive tension.  For some examples of breathing exercises, see attached video
  3. Do some gentle stretches – check out our exercise gallery for some examples!



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