What’s the Link Between Severe Back Pain and Mental Health?

If you don’t personally suffer from back pain, then I bet you know someone who does. After being surveyed in Saskatchewan, 48.9 percent of the population had experienced low back pain during the previous 6 months — and 11 percent were disabled by their pain.

Although symptoms are generally caused by muscle strain or the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle, researchers are now focusing more on the connection between our body and mind. Could the number one cause of disability be causing mental health issues?

Study Finds — Link Between Back Pain and Poor Mental Health  

Recently, an extensive study was published, showcasing another potential link between the body and mind. After studying over 200,000 patients across 43 countries, it was found that those who suffer from pain back, are three times more likely to experience depression — and are twice as likely to develop psychosis.

Unfortunately, the data also revealed that those who suffer from either back pain or chronic pain, are more likely to develop conditions such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders, as well as increased levels of stress. Since pain affects not only the body but also the mind, it may make the recovery process more difficult.

What’s interesting about this study, is that the participant pool was so large and varied. In that sense, it’s important to look at how individuals differ from one culture to the next. Of all the countries studied, China’s levels of back pain were the lowest — coming in at 13.7 percent.

In comparison, other countries experienced significantly higher rates. In Nepal, Bangladeshis, and Brazil, for instance, more than half of the population reported back pain. These rates were 57.1 percent, 53.1 percent, and 52 percent respectively.

Although this link has been uncovered in the past, showcasing the connection between back pain and depression, this study is significant based on its size and its focus on both low- and middle-income countries. While breaking down income levels, nineteen of the 43 countries studied were low-income.

The researchers concluded that back pain is associated with a higher risk of poor mental health. In turn, they stated that addressing both areas will be an important step when aiming to lessen this worldwide burden. Overall, this study verifies what a number of other small studies have found in the recent past, and should be considered when creating effective treatment plans.

Addressing Pain Without the Use of Drugs

Drugs often alter the chemistry of our brains — and when using heavy drugs to target pain, poor mental health may be amplified. Of course, of the drugs being administered, opioids are a significant concern. While focusing specifically on the United States and Canada, these countries prescribe two to three times more opioids than European countries.

In facts, these powerful drugs are now the most commonly prescribed class — yet back pain and chronic pain in general, are still a growing concern. What’s even more alarming, is that due to low back pain, the use of illicit drugs is becoming more common. Compared to those with no back pain, people with chronic low back pain are more likely to use meth, cocaine, and heroin.

In addition, those who are using these illegal drugs were also more likely to have an active opioid prescription.  The combination of pain and significant drug use is potentially contributing to a mental health epidemic. Once you throw addiction into the mix, one’s recovery path becomes much more complex.

When aiming to treat your back pain, you need to first understand why it is you have pain. Pain can result from something as simple as poor posture or psychological stress. Those who sit for long periods of time are also at significant risk of back pain — but that does not mean that they need drugs to remedy this issue.

We need to stop thinking of our bodies and health as separate parts. When treating yourself in a more holistic fashion, symptoms begin to lessen — no matter where they are within the body. Of course, this means you need to start taking care of yourself, not filling up on pain medication. Treat this option as a last resort.

Instead, try:

  • Chiropractic care — If you are suffering from a musculoskeletal disorder, a qualified chiropractor will be able to target your pain.
  • Stay active — If you live a sedentary lifestyle, it’s time to make some changes. Simply start by walking 30 minutes daily, then begin to challenge yourself — go cycling or try kayaking. Build new, healthy routines that encourage active living. You may also want to try a yoga class, as this practice has been shown to significantly reduce pain levels and overall stress.
  • Try exercises intended for back pain — There are targeted exercises that you can do to develop a stronger core. A physiotherapist can help you create a plan that enhances strength and flexibility. Massage is another option, even for those with arthritis.

After all, as the Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami once said, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

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