Back Pain from Stress

Radiating Back Pain

Radiating Back Pain

Dealing with Stress and Back Pain

Back pain can be due to a number of causes, with mechanical problems, trauma, degeneration, and even manganese deficiency the possible aetiology of your pain.  However, the biggest cause of musculoskeletal back pain is stress, whether emotional, physical, or chemical.  It goes without saying that for many people Christmas and Thanksgiving are far from being fun times, with family concerns and pressures, bad weather, extra errands, and increased social demands piling on the stress.  If you have an underlying condition such as spinal stenosis then stress can quickly exacerbate your back pain, and may cause further damage and progression of spinal pathology.

How Stress Causes Back Pain

Some simple reasons stress causes more pain include muscle tension and resulting fatigue, an increase in inflammatory chemicals such as cytokines, resorting to ‘coping’ habits such as smoking, drinking, and over-eating or eating junk.  Excessive production of cortisol and adrenaline over the long-term can have a significant, negative, effect on health and are associated with chronic stress.  Alterations in hormone production can occur which may then lead to adrenal insufficiency, further fatigue and systemic dysfunction.  Nutritional deficiencies may result from poor dietary and lifestyle habits, such as magnesium, manganese, or B vitamins, which are connected to muscle cramps and headaches, low back pain, and poor energy, stress, and insomnia.

Carrying extra weight increases pain, as does overdoing things at this time of year in preparation for Christmas (or at the office parties!).  Stress also affects the immune system, which can leave you open to problems of infection, particularly if you have just had surgery or are scheduled for an operation.  Taking time to recover from spinal surgery may be difficult at this time of year, but is very important in order to reduce risk of further surgery being necessary, or other complications.  It might be worth considering delaying your spinal surgery until after Christmas if possible, in order to avoid further stress on your body.

Physical Responses to Stress

Physical Responses to Stress

Accept your Limitations – and Work Within Them

What can you do to reduce the effects of stress on your back pain? Some simple suggestions include making careful plans which accept your limitations. If you can’t face the five hour drive to your brother’s for Christmas then don’t force yourself to do it.  Similarly, if having a huge crowd round to your house to feed, entertain, and ferry to and from the party is going to be too much then be honest with yourself and your family about your pain and ask for help.  It’s tempting to be a martyr at Christmas, but in reality it helps no one. Your family will not enjoy themselves, and neither will you, if they can see you’re doing too much and are in pain. Be kind to yourself.

Think about your previous festive activities and remember what worked and what didn’t.  If shopping wipes you out for days, then shop online, or arrange ‘experience’ gifts for loved ones instead.  If you can’t sit through another whole performance of Christmas carols at the local Church because of the hard benches then don’t go, or take a cushion and sit at the back so you can sneak out when you need to.  When sending your Christmas cards, radicular pain in the arms from spinal stenosis can wreak havoc with your good intentions.  Consider sending e-cards instead.  That way you save time, energy, and do your bit for the planet all at the same time.

When it comes to putting up the Christmas decorations – have a plan! Get someone else to do any stretching, and ladder-climbing, if you can.  Consider just doing one room, or just the tree, and skip the annual neighborhood energy-wasting light-up spectacular.  If Christmas day is to be at your place then think about making it a potluck, that way you get to reduce the amount of stress, and make it more of a family affair.  This can also reduce costs if you are on a tight budget having had to take time off work due to back pain.

Stress is for Life, Not Just for Christmas

Of course, stress can occur at any time of the year, not just Christmas and Thanksgiving, so take all these ideas on board year round and, if you know that you don’t deal well with stressful situations consider calling in the professionals.  Counselling can help you come to terms with your illness, whether you are newly diagnosed or have been living with the condition for years.  Research suggests that those who have sessions with a psychologist have much less fear about their pain and are more realistic about their limitations.  If you feel that tension has become an ingrained habit then consider giving the Alexander Technique a try as this can help with postural issues, breathing regulation, and emotional control to help you face your stress and cope with it better.

Cat Yoga

Take a Break with Yoga

Give Yourself a Break

If you’ve simply taken on a bit too much then don’t be afraid to give yourself a break and ask for help.  Take some time out to relax with yoga, a gentle walk, a hot bath with lavender and rosemary oil to aid muscle relaxation, or even a massage or acupuncture session.  Struggling on and making your pain worse will slow you down in the long-run and make the festivities feel more like a chore than ever.  Keeping mobile is essential in order to get the circulation going, prevent stiffness and to keep depression at bay.  A physical therapist can help you devise an appropriate program of stretches and exercises to keep you as flexible as possible.  Cold or hot compresses are also helpful in reducing inflammation, or relaxing muscles, respectively.

If pain is particularly bad then discuss it with your doctor as an epidural steroid injection or different medication may help you survive the festive period.  Similarly, if stress is making you anxious and affecting your sleeping habits then consult a naturopath knowledgeable about natural sleeping aids.  Taking these without professional advice can be dangerous due to interactions with pharmaceuticals so don’t risk it.  Above all allow yourself to enjoy Christmas, just don’t over-do the sherry.

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  1. […] to occur in younger patients and is triggered by an autoimmune reaction itself often triggered by stress, either physical or emotional, that adversely affects physiology and immune system function. If […]

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