Breaking the Stress – Back Pain Cycle

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Breaking the Stress – Back Pain Cycle

One of the main causes of back pain is emotional stress and that back pain may be a signal that you are not coping well with stress. It’s common knowledge that people under stress are tense and that tension can settle in your back. Even if you are experiencing constant stress, your muscles may be tightening up so often that you become used to it. But those taut, tight muscles can send a strong pain signal to your brain. The discomfort may make you wary of normal activities and, as you limit your movement and activity, your muscles become weaker and gradually de-conditioned, and more painful. This vicious cycle continues and may end up as chronic back pain. There are several things that you can do to ease stress induced back pain and break this cycle.

Reducing Stress

Once you recognize the stress in your life and the effects it has, there may be some ways to deal with it.

Try to identify people and situations that bother you. How can you deal with them? Some you might be able to avoid altogether.  Say you hate driving home in rush hour traffic and become tied in knots. Can you adjust your work hours and leave a bit earlier or later? Could you go to the gym or library for an hour after work? If you hate standing in line at the grocery, consider shopping during off hours when the store is less crowded.  Financial pressures, long work weeks, medical problems add to stress and can not always be changed. You have to recognize the stress these problems and situations create and attempt to develop ways to deal with it. Try to breakup your problems into small units that are not so overwhelming. Deal with one at a time, taking the easiest or most pressing first. Learn your limitations and don’t take on more than you can handle. Manage your time and learn to say ‘No’ to burdensome commitments.


Breathing Exercises

One breathing technique that is helpful is 2:1 breathing. Inhale to the count of three and then exhale while you count to six. Repeat this several times

Relaxation Techniques

These techniques invoke the relaxation response which is the opposite of the stress response. Using deep breathing techniques, muscles relax and blood pressure, heart rate and respiration decrease. Progressive muscle relaxation and self-hypnosis are also helpful.

Meditation And visualization

These methods have devoted followers who have calmed their busy minds by combining imagery with breathing exercises.

One meditation technique is known as ‘taking the one chair’. Imagine yourself in a room in which there is a single chair. Sit down on the chair and let your thoughts and emotions pass in front of you. Remember that you are sitting in the only chair in the room and your thoughts have no place to rest. Watch them pass right on out of the room.

Body Scan

Complete a body scan. Begin by lying or sitting down and do several cycles of 2:1 breathing. After you are fully relaxed, make a full mental sweep of your body as though you were undergoing a complete x-ray. Move slowly but steadily and note all areas of tightness or tension. After you’ve finished the scan, return to the tight, tense areas and consciously ‘ breathe’  into those spots for several breathing cycles. Imagine your muscles slowly relaxing. A body scan takes some time but if done on a regular basis, it can help you become aware of early warning signs of a looming back pain attack. You become aware of your individual signal spots, places that hurt when your back first starts acting up but before a full pain attack is under way. This helps you take early action to get the discomfort under control.

Consider talk therapy with a stress counselor, a support group or a psychologist. Talk to your health care provider about your stress. Most people think that the mind and body are separate and function independently. Instead, they usually work together in shaping experiences. Recognizing the ‘mind – body’ relationship is the first step in dealing with the connection and breaking the vicious stress – pain connection. 


Paul Miller is a Jupiter spinal decompression therapist, who has worked with individuals with back pain problems for seven years. If you would like to receive a free weekly newsletter on spinal decompression therapy visit and also to get more in-depth information.

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