delimitador (+34) 966 811 199 delimitador

SHA Magazine Be SHA

When back pain is a symptom of anxiety

SHA Wellness Clinic
August 29, 2023

‘My back hurts’ is not a complaint usually associated with stress or mental health. Back or neck pain is often associated with poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, or even bearing weight incorrectly.

However, back pain is often a warning sign of a build-up of tension and stress that can lead to an anxiety disorder. Stress causes a build-up of tension in the diaphragm muscle, which causes us to change our posture and can lead to back pain.

Chronic stress and anticipation are characteristics of anxiety. Both circumstances affect the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, which in turn leads to headaches, dizziness, vertigo, muscle fatigue, nausea and muscle tension.

Several studies have documented the link between chronic lower back pain and anxiety disorders. Among them, a study carried out at the University of Porto (Portugal) indicates that it is very common for patients with chronic lower back pain to also have depressive and anxiety disorders.

Some research explains this relationship through insomnia, as chronic pain and difficulty finding a sleeping position interfere with these people’s sleep. Pain often wakes them up during the night, and this lack of rest over time is often enough to trigger anxiety and depression. It has also been documented that psychological disorders can make lower back pain chronic.


Why is muscle pain caused by anxiety?

When a person experiences chronic stress or anxiety, their body continuously produces cytokines, the molecules that mediate and regulate immunity and inflammation. Cytokines affect the growth of all blood cells involved in the body’s immune and inflammatory response. It is precisely an excess of cytokines that causes muscle stiffness leading to severe pain. The other compound involved in anxiety-related muscle pain is adrenaline, a substance released by the brain in excessive amounts in stressful situations. Excessive adrenaline release damages blood vessels, increases blood pressure and body weight, causes headaches and insomnia, and increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and autoimmune diseases.

Anxiety itself can cause pain because stressful situations transfer a lot of tension and stiffness to the shoulders. Anxious people often tense their muscles without realising it, which puts extra strain on their musculoskeletal system and muscles.

People with anxiety are always tense because their body prepares itself to react to impending ‘danger’ with a flight or fight response. In fact, people suffering from anxiety-related muscle tension often end up experiencing frequent back and neck pain and may even experience this pain throughout the body on a chronic basis.

Back pain and stiff neck muscles are very common in people suffering from anxiety and can occur intermittently or over a long period of time. The intensity of the pain and stiffness can vary from person to person.


What should you do if you have back pain that you suspect is being caused by anxiety?

To alleviate these pains, it is important to seek professional help to find a comprehensive and long-term solution. Painkillers will only eliminate the symptom, not the source of the pain. Psychotherapy, especially behavioural techniques, has proven to be effective for chronic pain caused by anxiety. Some relaxation techniques also help to ease tension and muscle stiffness caused by anxiety.

Alternative treatments, Oriental medicine, and yoga are powerful tools for these conditions because they address the root of the problem. In addition to seeking psychological help, some lifestyle changes can ease an anxious person’s aching muscles. For example, regular physical exercise strengthens muscles, prevents muscle stiffness, and improves mood, self-esteem, and self-perception. Getting enough sleep and having a good sleep routine improve the symptoms associated with anxiety, and a balanced and healthy diet will


Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay up to date every month with all the latest articles in health, wellness and healthy nutrition
Send this to a friend