Healthy Living

Can You Get Back Pain From Stress?

Can You Get Back Pain From Stress?

Sometimes, the pressures of life become too much to handle, and stress becomes the norm. When stress lasts for too long, it becomes a source of many health complications. The effects of stress are only in the mind in most cases. However, extreme cases of stress may affect some parts of the body in some people. The back is one of the commonly affected parts. Your back muscles become tense, and this triggers lower back pain or worse.

When stress causes back pain, worrying about the pain, on top of everything else, will add to the stress. You might go back and forth between experiencing stress and back pain, and it becomes a vicious cycle. You cannot completely avoid stress in your daily life, but you certainly can try to avoid situations that bring you stress. You can also try to change how these stressful situations affect you. Here are a few ideas that can help you minimize stress. 

Time management

If you don’t manage your time well, you will probably end up with too much to do in very little time. When things pile up, they will exert mounting pressure on you, leading to stress. Here are a few tips to help you manage your time:

  • When there is too much to be done, you don’t always have to do them all by yourself. There comes a time in every person's life when he or she should ask for a helping hand. 
  • Try to avoid multitasking. Juggling too many tasks at once only leads to stress in most cases.
  • Always try to get the urgent and most important things done first. The less important things can wait for later, when you are under less pressure. This will help a great deal in reducing stress and enabling you to get things done correctly.
  • Create some free time for yourself to relax and do what you love.
  • Don’t postpone things that need to get done, especially if you are in a position to do them immediately.

Interact with others

Talking to people close to you about what you are going through is a good way to let off some steam and relieve stress. You could share ideas or advice with colleagues or classmates on how to tackle daily issues. You could also join a support group if you are in a situation that needs special attention. This can greatly help in helping you deal and cope with the situation with more equanimity and strength. You can usually find these groups in your workplace, school, or community. 


Your lifestyle choices will determine how you will handle your stress. Getting enough sleep is one way of bouncing back from stress. Your body recovers from the effects of stress when you sleep. Good eating habits can also help you fight stress. Always try to eat well and relax at meal times. Engage in relaxing, pleasurable activities that you enjoy doing and taking your mind off of things that cause you stress. A few suggestions are taking walks in the park, gardening, or playing with your kids.

How back pain caused by stress, or tension myonitis (TMS), is diagnosed

The diagnosis of back pain caused by or related to stress involves a thorough physical examination and study of your medical history. You should always be cautious about self-diagnosing, since the back pain may be a sign of a more serious medical complication like a tumor or infection. Being diagnosed by a medical doctor will help rule out any serious complications.

The history of the beginning of one's back pain is always important in the diagnosis of stress-related back pain. The incident that is the source of the back pain can be identified just by looking into the patient’s history. It is not uncommon for back pains caused by strain or by some other cause to continue due to emotional or mental factors long after the strain or injury has healed.

In some cases, results from an MRI or CT scan may reveal back complications like degenerative disc disease, even if stress was the actual cause. However, the results may not be clinically significant if stress has already been determined as the root cause of the pain. The general characteristics of back pain related to stress include symptoms like the following:

  • Pain in the back or neck
  • Tenderness of the muscles at specific points
  • Fatigue and lack of sleep
  • Frequent shifting of pain from one point to another
  • Muscle aches

The symptoms of back pain caused by stress are often similar to the symptoms of fibromyalgia. A diagnosis of back pain caused by stress is done by a doctor not only by eliminating other possible causes, but also by detecting its features.

Treatment of stress-related back pain

Just as there are a number of theories on how stress can cause back pain, there are also a couple of treatment approaches that can be applied.
Dr. Sarno’s treatment of back pain from stress - This treatment is based on an emphasis of the emotional and psychological factors causing the back pain, and reassures the patient of the importance of full physical recovery. This approach focuses mainly on repressed feelings of anger or rage as the cause of the back pain. Once it is diagnosed, the patient is strongly advised to "think psychological, not physical." The patient undergoes a series of educational lectures to help him or her accept and acknowledge that the back pain is psychologically-caused. He or she may also be advised to undergo psychotherapy sessions to solve the underlying issue. Dr. Sarno's treatment is very different from the treatment given for back pain by most medical practitioners.

The multidisciplinary treatment or integrated approach - This is a broader approach than Dr. Sarno’s treatment. In the multidisciplinary approach, the doctor looks into the various factors that have jointly caused the back pain, and a treatment for each is developed. Some of these treatments include physical therapy programs, medication such as muscle relaxants and antidepressants, psychological pain management methods, and counseling. Below are the factors the doctor evaluates as contributing causes of the back pain:

Emotional factors - these include anxiety, depression, and anger among others
Physical factors - they include weak muscles, de-conditioned, nerve irritation, etc.
Cognitive - pessimism, negative thoughts and hopelessness among others.
Environmental factors - such as financial problems, job loss, etc.

The multidisciplinary treatment of stress-related back pain has been applied in numerous cases for almost 25 years. Its success highly depends on the commitment and motivation of the patient when undergoing the rehabilitation. Other treatments have also proven effective in dealing with stress-related back pain, or TMS. However, prevention is better than cure, and the best advice is to avoid stress and find a way to manage it before it spirals out of control. Admitting that you need help with your stress is the first step in managing it and ensuring that you live a happy and healthy life without stress-related back pain.