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How Stress Causes Back Pain

Back Pain May Flare Up During Stressful Times — Here's Why


It's not necessarily a coincidence that your back pain is flaring up during times of great emotional tension — stress actually has the potential to cause back pain, as well as make existing back pain even worse.

According to Dr. Charla Fischer, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone's Spine Center, emotional stress can cause back pain as the muscles in the back can tense up, therefore leading to cramping and spasms.

When it comes to stress-related mid-back pain, UT Southwestern Medical Center explained that stress can change breathing patterns, which can cause strain and tension in the mid-back, as well as cause shoulders to hunch up and contribute to pain in the upper back.

While Dr. Fischer said that treatment of emotional stress usually improves stress-related back pain, stress can also negatively affect pre-existing back pain — or back pain that was present before times of uncertainty or tension.

Dr. Fischer explained that chronic pain can cause stress, which then exacerbates back pain. "It can become a cycle, but treatment of the chronic pain would help both the pain and the stress."

If your pain is caused by emotional stress, Dr. Fischer suggested finding coping mechanisms for the stress and practicing core exercises to maintain a healthy back.

"A regular exercise routine that continues despite stressful situations in life can be a good way to combat both the stress and the back pain," she said.

When it comes to chronic pain, Harvard Health Publishing noted that mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy have both been shown to be helpful.

Another helpful relaxation technique is practicing breathing exercises, like deep-belly breathing.

You can also reach out to a medical professional about the best relaxation techniques or treatments for your back pain, regardless of what's behind it.

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