Can Stress Cause Back Pain?

 by Dr. Steve Hruby, D.C.
Reviewed by Dr. Steve Hruby, D.C.

SuperHumans are the toughest, fittest, healthiest and happiest human beings on this planet. My mission is to help you realize your superhuman potential and learn how to live a long, happy and healthy life.

  Fact Checked
 by Rhealyn Tropia, RMT
Reviewed by Rhealyn Tropia, RMT

I’m a content organizer, fact-checker and super mom who ensures content is medically-reviewed, highly accurate, and engaging. My passion is organizing information and ensuring the facts are presented in a manner that is interesting and easy to understand.

can stress cause back pain

If your back pain is making it hard for you to perform everyday tasks and live a normal life, then you shouldn’t be surprised to know that you aren’t alone.

Back pain contributes to the highest healthcare costs in the USA. It’s estimated that around 80% of the population experiences some form of back pain in their lifetime, making chronic back pain healthcare and indirect costs contribute a whopping $12 billion every year. 

This means back pain is the most common medical problem that people complain about and seek treatment for. We have all been through an agonizing episode of severe back pain at least once. However, as often as we experience back pain, we’re barely able to pinpoint its root cause. Back injuries, muscle strains, and muscle spasms are some of the most common causes of back pain.

But the question here is “Can stress cause back pain?” Let’s find out the answer.

Is Back Pain Caused by Stress?

You might have often thought that your back pain is caused by muscle tension or by you moving the wrong way. It might sound surprising, but stress could also be a factor in your back pain.

The much-obvious causes of lower back pain could be an injury, muscle strain, muscle spasms, etc. Among the other not-so-obvious causes is mental or emotional stress.

When you’re anxious or stressed, hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released in the body. Your muscles involuntarily tighten as a result of these physical and chemical reactions. Prolonged tension in the muscles could lead to lower back pain in some cases.

Increasing levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are also linked with the loss of muscle mass as well as an increase in fat accumulation.

How Does Stress Contribute to Back Pain?

Psychological stress is interpreted as a physical emergency by our bodies. This means our body reacts to psychological stress in the same way as to the physical danger. 

woman touching her hands

Stress contributes to an increased heartbeat and, in turn, a rise in blood pressure. This further causes the release of various hormones that prepare our body to face an emergency situation.

As a result of these reactions going on in the body due to the release of hormones, muscles in the back, arms, abdomen, and legs tend to tense and tighten. Generally, when the stressor is removed, the body gets back to normal.

However, chronic stress can make your muscles stay tense and tight for a longer period than usual, which contributes to discomfort and pain in the lower back.

How Do You Treat Stress-related Back Pain?

Most lower back pains often recover within a few weeks with self-care or at-home treatments. If the pain persists for longer than a few weeks, then it’s recommended to contact your healthcare provider.

Besides, here are a few other tell-tale signs that you need to see a specialist ASAP.

  • If the pain is severe
  • If the pain is accompanied by a fever
  • If the pain causes bladder or bowel problems
  • If the back pain is accompanied by weight loss
  • If the pain causes tingling, numbness, or weakness in the legs
  • If the pain spreads down to one or both of your legs, especially below the knee

The best way to treat any health concern is by clearly determining the underlying cause. A healthcare practitioner would first do a thorough inspection of your symptoms. It involves evaluating the physical, cognitive, environmental, or emotional factors and developing a comprehensive treatment for the problem-causing aspect.

In the case of stress-related back pain, targeting the stressors is the best approach. A professional would assess your habits or any underlying medical condition that’s contributing to the stress and offer trailer-made treatment.

Home Remedies for Back Pain

In order to relieve back pain caused by anxiety, one needs to first identify the exact cause of the back pain. This involves figuring out whether your pain is trauma-induced or tension-induced.

man experiencing lower back pain

If your pain is trauma-induced then you may require professional help. Tension-induced back pain, on the other hand, can be alleviated at home.

A few easy remedies for relieving back pain include applying an ice pack, heat, or taking over-the-counter medication.

Applying a cold compress for around 10-15 minutes, three to four times a day on the onset of the back pain would help.

This should be followed by using a heating pad after the first couple of days of cold compress. You can also go for warm baths or showers as this can loosen the stiffness in the muscles to help relieve pain.

Massage therapy by a certified and experienced professional is another great option you can opt for. 

How Can I Avoid Having Back Pain in the Future?

Here are a few good habits to avoid having back pain in the future:

  1. Eating healthy
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Avoiding heavy lifting
  4. Practicing good posture
  5. Maintaining a healthy weight
  6. Maintaining a proper sleep routine
  7. Building flexibility and muscle strength
  8. Sleeping with the spine in a neutral position
  9. Managing stress levels by meditation or other mindfulness activities


Can Emotional Stress Cause Back Pain?

Yes, emotional pain can be a contributing factor to your back pain. Constant stress or anxiety causes muscles to tighten and tense, which may result in lower back pain.

sad woman on bed embracing her knees

When back pain is caused by stress, the patient can sometimes fall into a vicious cycle of pain and stress.

This means, stress manifests physically and causes back pain and back pain, in turn, elevates stress which results in increased pain. Stress can even cause other physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and gastrointestinal upset.

Check out the link to know, what can stress cause diarrhea.

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Chronic Back Pain?

Everyday stress and anxiety can result in muscle tension and stiffness in the mid-back, low-back, and neck areas. When we’re stressed, our breathing patterns and posture change, and our mood is affected as well.

As a result of this distress, we sometimes tend to slouch and avoid physical activity, which leads to a sedentary lifestyle. This hypersensitivity and inactivity, unfortunately, aggravate the problem.

Persisting or repetitive bouts of anxiety and stress can cause musculoskeletal issues, gradually contributing to chronic and acute back pain symptoms.

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In a nutshell, the answer to “can stress cause low back pain?” is an absolute yes. We all have to acknowledge that stress and anxiety can manifest in many physical symptoms. Shoulder, neck, back pain, and jaw pain from anxiety are the most common ones that we often tend to sideline. Managing stress becomes very important at this point in order to be able to stay fit and carry out everyday activities.

An active lifestyle that incorporates a healthy diet, sleeping patterns, and relaxation techniques are good prevention for not letting stress interfere with your health.

For dealing with external stressors, you can trust Aura CBD oil, a holistic approach to alleviating anxiety and managing stress. This hemp/CBD oil balances the nerves and reduces aches and pains so that you can enjoy life to the fullest. After all, a stress-free lifestyle is a key to optimal health!

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