Stress and back pain
with advice from Shawn Hickling, PTA,
Laureen Dubeau, CSCS,
Kiss My Back! and PowerPlay
We’ve written in the past about a variety of causes for back pain: poor posture, improper ergonomics at the office, even straining to lift heavy items like a baby improperly. But did you know that stress can also cause back pain?
The experts at Physiquality partner Kiss My Back! point out that any stress — from the home, the office, or the family — decreases oxygen to potential areas of discomfort, like the neck, shoulders and back. If you have a pre-existing condition or a history of chronic pain, this can exacerbate the problem.
To make it worse, “when someone is experiencing back pain,” says Laureen Dubeau, “they often decrease their activity level,” which leads to weaker muscles and joints — and more pain. A certified strength and conditioning specialist and MERRITHEW™ Master Instructor Trainer specializing in STOTT PILATES®, another Physiquality partner, Laureen cautions against letting the deep stabilizing muscles of the spine to weaken. If these muscles stop working to stabilize the spine, she says, the larger, superficial muscles become tense and overworked, which increases the pain (even more) and restricts movement.
If your stress leads to postural changes, like hunched shoulders, this will add to your muscular tension throughout your back. And if you start to lose sleep because of the stress, not only will you be crankier during the day, but your body won’t have the chance to recuperate and heal overnight, leading to… tense muscles and more pain.
So how can you break this cycle of stress and pain? Your physical therapist is an excellent resource for the best methods. In addition, being mindful of what is causing the stress and how you are handling it is vital. Kiss My Back! reminds readers that a lot of stress is caused by lack of or miscommunication. Talk to your colleagues or your family about what is creating the stress, and discuss ways to reduce the problems that are causing it.
Making time for exercise can also reduce both stress and pain. Laureen notes that increased activity will strengthen the muscles that support your back, while producing endorphins and increasing oxygen flow in your body, reducing pain in your back and elsewhere. Using a mind-body exercise like Pilates or yoga can also allow you to strengthen your internal focus on your body. This calms the mind, which improves your ability to deal with stress. In addition, she says, “the focus in Pilates on restoring ideal posture and reducing the force on joints can help restore a sense of support and control.”
Physiquality partner PowerPlay points out how important it is to be aware of your environment. Pay attention to how your desk is laid out at work, and make sure that it’s ergonomically correct. If you sleep on your stomach, consider sleeping on your side or your back, as it’s better for your back muscles, or read through these tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to improve your sleep posture when you have back pain. You may also need a new mattress or one that is more firm; if you haven’t bought one in the last 10 years, it’s time to start shopping. And don’t forget to think about what you wear every day — supportive footwear and a bag that is worn cross-body vs. over one shoulder can affect your back muscles as well.
In the short term, cold therapy, or even cold + compression therapy, can help to relieve pain, reminds Shawn Hickling, a physical therapist assistant and the founder of ActiveWrap, another Physiquality partner. If the back muscles are spasming, heat therapy, or a combination of heat and ice, may be better. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, known as NSAIDs, may also help to relieve pain, but beware of using them over a long time due to their side effects.
Shawn Hickling, PTA, invented the ActiveWrap® therapeutic wrap in 1994 and has since become founder and president of ActiveWrap, Inc., a Physiquality partner. ActiveWrap offers 6 different wraps designed to fit specific joints and trouble spots, targeting your pain with either heat or ice for instant relief.
Physiquality partner Kiss My Back!® helps you sit comfortably. Reinforcing the natural curve of the lumbar spine, the flexible, body-conforming design of Kiss My Back! back supports and chair cushions provides excellent spinal stability and comfort.
Laureen Dubeau, CSCS, is a MERRITHEW™ Master Instructor Trainer, specializing in STOTT PILATES®, another Physiquality partner. An NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, she began teaching Pilates in 1995. Laureen is a featured performer and associate producer of many MERRITHEW DVDs, the associate editor of numerous teaching manuals, and an author of articles in several industry publications.
Recover faster with PowerPlay, a Physiquality partner. PowerPlay’s intermittent compression helps push swelling up and out of joints to the core of the body, while the cold therapy reduces pain and inflammation, allowing for a quicker return to activity.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on health and wellness, in addition to the below links:
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medicines (NSAIDs). Cleveland Clinic, November 26, 2012.
How often should I buy a new mattress? Consumer Reports, December 17, 2007.