Stress and Back Pain

It is estimated that 95% of Americans suffer from some form of back pain in their lifetime. Regular aches and pain in the soft tissue surrounding the vertebras is common. When a person is stressed out the pain in the back can increase. Being stressed is simply a sympathetic response to stressors. When the sympathetic system is fired up blood shunts from the digestive system and moves toward the extremities.  The reason for this is because the body prepares for the fight or flight reaction. Blood, water, and wastes clear the digestive system to prepare for an attack, the heart rate increases, respiratory rate increases, pupils dialate, our immune system mobilizes with increased activation. Stress hormones norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol are increased in the bloodstream. While this sequence of events occurs the blood vessels and capillaries constrict slowing down the flow of blood. The lower back muscles require a steady flow of blood to keep them flexible and fluid. When the stress response occurs the blood shunts from the digestive system which sits directly anteriorly the lumbar vertebras and muscles. The blood flow to this region is reduced, therefore, oxygen is limited to this area. Lack of oxygen results in a build up of hydrogens that will produce lactic acid. Pain develops in the lower back muscles because of the lack of blood, oxygen and nutrients. The more stressed out a person, or the longer the sympathetic response occurs the more pain is experienced in the lumbar region. Chronic stress will, over time, cause a drying out effect of the lumbar area. The muscles and bones become dehydrated and this begins to put structural stress on the vertebras. Structural damage can result in disc damage and/or neuropathy, sciatica.

Chronic stress has a direct link to back pain. By de-stressing and reducing the sympathetic reaction can help reduce back pain. Getting a good flow of blood, oxygen, nutrients throughout the lumbar region will help keep the muscles flexible and fluid.

People who sit all day and are stressed out increase their risk of developing disc disease and dysfunction at a high rate. This is because sitting naturally reduces blood flow to the lumbar area. Add a sympathetic reaction and the result is very poor blood flow that will ex-acerbate back pain even more. The bottom line is de-stress your life and avoid sitting down all day. Exercise your body and keep the blood, oxygen, and nutrients flowing. Back pain is no fun and once it develops it is hard to reduce its onset. Listen to your body and be aware of the symptoms. You only have one vertebral column and you don’t want to live with damaged discs.

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Daryl Conant, M.Ed