It’s understandable for people with back pain to take offense if they’re essentially told their discomfort is “in their head,” which is what some assume is being said to them if they’re told their discomfort may be psychosomatic to some degree. However, what this actually means is that physical symptoms experienced are related to psychological or emotional factors. There’s some debate over whether this type of stress is a root cause of back pain or a symptom of physical issues. However, let’s put that debate aside and focus on the basics of psychosomatic back pain.
Psychosomatic Back Pain and the Stress-Pain Cycle
Unless back pain is caused by a sudden event such as an unexpected injury, patients are likely to get into what’s often called a “stress-pain cycle.” In a nutshell, this means your back pain may limit your ability to participate in certain activities you used to enjoy. Because those activities are now painful to participate in, you may stop doing them entirely. Therefore, you may end up being less active because of your back pain. However, increased inactivity weakens spine-supporting muscle groups and contributes to more discomfort. If this type of stress-pain cycle continues, you may experience:
• Increased stress, fear, and anxiety
• Depression as you become more isolated by not taking part in certain activities anymore
• An increasingly pessimistic outlook if you don’t see an end to this cycle
Stress, Back Pain, and Physical Changes
There’s also evidence suggesting stress and similar psychosomatic factors can contribute to physical changes that affect back pain. One popular theory is that stress affects the nervous system and contributes to constricted blood vessels. As blood vessels become narrower, there isn’t as much room for beneficial nutrients to get to muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves around the spine. Should these physical changes occur, it may become increasingly difficult to experience meaningful relief.
Psychosomatic Back Pain Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing back pain related to emotional or psychological factors isn’t quite as straightforward as identifying a problem with a spinal disc. Even so, diagnosing psychosomatic back pain typically starts with a thorough medical examination. Your Los Angeles spine surgeon may also ask about your symptoms and the various sources of stress affecting your daily life. Image tests might be performed as well to identify or rule out physical sources of back pain.
In some instances, it may be discovered that stress is affecting your ability to heal from physical causes of back pain, which may be the case with strained spine-supporting muscles that are taking longer to heal because of stress-related inflammation. Treatment, which is usually based on your particular combination of psychological and physical back pain sources, may involve:
• Identifying stress triggers and recommending coping methods
• Light or low-impact exercises and therapeutic stretches to ease stress naturally by reducing the production of stress-related hormones while also strengthening key muscle groups
• Medication to manage stress
• Therapy or counseling to address emotional issues
• Pain medication and various forms of physical therapy to improve the management of back pain
Some patients with emotional or psychological issues related to back pain avoid active treatments such as therapeutic exercise altogether. However, inactivity or relying solely on passive treatments such as medication and rest usually makes it difficult to see noticeable improvements while also worsening symptoms. You’re more likely to benefit from a combination of passive and active treatment options that address both physical and emotional sources of back pain.
If you’re experiencing back pain, no matter its origin, make sure to see a doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment. Reach out to the spine health specialists at The Spine Institute. Whether they need conservative treatment with medication and physical therapy or surgical intervention such as ACDF surgery, Los Angeles patients can rely on our physicians to customize treatment plans for their unique needs. We are industry pioneers with experience in every type of back pain, and we use the most innovative techniques available to help our patients find relief. Call one of our friendly team members today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.