The Link Between Back Pain & Mental Health
Back pain is an extraordinarily common problem that affects countless people in one way or another. While we tend to think of it as a physical ailment, however — and even a handicap in more severe cases — there is a clear mental component as well. To be clear, significant back pain is not caused by or directly related to any particular mental condition, at least not regularly. However, research is clear that physical problems of this nature commonly affect mental health.
More specifically, a study covered by Medical News Today found that people experiencing lower back pain were “more than twice as likely” to experience one of five different mental health conditions. These conditions are anxiety, depression, psychosis, stress, and sleep deprivation — all of which can be extremely detrimental to mental well-being and even long-term physical health. The study involved nearly 200,000 participants, making it one of the largest known examinations of back pain’s relation to mental health and making its findings fairly conclusive.
While those running this study made clear that precise reasons for the link are as yet undetermined, we can make some general assumptions — most fundamentally that the nagging and limiting nature of back injuries leads to the aforementioned mental health issues fairly directly. On a more constructive note though, knowledge of the link between back pain and mental health ought to lead us to examine how exactly we treat issues of this nature.
First and foremost, all of this raises the question of whether psychological treatment might in fact help mitigate the total effects of back pain. This idea is made all the more interesting by the fact that we are currently in the midst of an expansion in psychology’s place in the medical world more generally.
Rising awareness regarding mental health issues is helping to drive interest in psychological studies, which in turn have become far more widely available thanks to internet-based courses and degree programs. As a result, we are actually seeing more people with specific training in psychology entering the medical field. Already, an overview of online bachelors in psychology at Maryville University lists health care facilities, public health, and rehabilitation clinics among the places where a growing number of psychology graduates can find work. Most of that work will involve mental health treatment, which means at least in theory that trained professionals are in place to begin treating the same problems as they arise in connection to back pain.
Aside from treating back pain from a psychological angle though, we should also be reconsidering how we address early signs of these issues. Because unfortunately, back pain is often handed poorly in the early going, increasing the likelihood that it becomes more severe, and thus more likely to impact mental health. As was stated in a University of Saskatchewan analysis on back pain, it tends to be a problematically “over-medicalized” condition. Universal healthcare coverage of back pain is often limited to diagnostic imaging and prescription medication — leading doctors and patients alike toward affordable and convenient treatment options that may not necessarily be the right ones.
This is not to say that imaging is never helpful, nor that prescription medication isn’t sometimes necessary in treating back pain or related conditions. However, a consensus is emerging that in many if not most cases, a physiological approach has a better chance of addressing underlying causes of back pain and potentially relieving the issue before it gets too severe (and affects mental well-being too significantly).
This is part of what we covered in looking into “How To Relieve Back Pain Fast” — a post in which we noted low-impact exercise, hot and cold compresses, creams, sleep, and physical therapy all as remedies worth trying at early signs of back pain. Physical therapy and exercises in particular can be extraordinarily effective at relieving discomfort and providing patients with the tools they need to keep back pain at bay. Granted, we mentioned the possibility of minimally invasive surgery in the same piece, and there are many instances in which this is necessary in handling specific causes of back pain that can’t be treated otherwise. But at least trying some of the simpler remedies gives patients the best chance of managing back pain without significant complications.
These treatment strategies are all the more important to consider as we grow more certain of the link between back pain and mental health. Having that understanding is a good first step, and it is also a good thing that we’re seeing an influx of psychology in certain aspects of healthcare. But knowing that back pain can have negative effects on mental health also brings about greater urgency in figuring out how to treat it early and effectively. The right approach will often stop early signs of pain from developing into severe, multi-faceted conditions that affect day-to-day quality of life.
Article specially written for minimallyinvasiveneurosurgerytexas.com
by Jen Valentine