All of us have experienced stress at some point in our lives; but what you may not have considered is that this stress could be the primary cause of your lower back pain.

See Causes of Lower Back Pain

Read on to learn about your treatment options for lower back pain that is caused by stress:

1. Physical conditioning

A common temptation for people who are experiencing stress-related lower back pain is to avoid exercise. This can be due to any number of reasons, including a fear of further damaging one’s back. Over time, this lack of exercise leads to deconditioned lower back muscles, which in turn can actually increase your lower back pain.

See Exercise and Back Pain

The connection between inactivity and increased pain is one reason why physical conditioning is a key component of almost all treatment plans for stress-related lower back pain.

See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health

I typically suggest that people begin a regimen of physical conditioning with a daily walk. Walking provides numerous benefits, including strengthening the muscles around your abdomen and lower back, controlling your weight, and spurring the release of pain-fighting endorphins into your system.

See Techniques for Effective Exercise Walking

You can begin a walking regimen with as little as 10 minutes per day, and then slowly work your way up to 30 to 40 minutes. Over time, your doctor will likely suggest you add strength training and stretching to your physical conditioning program.


2. Counseling for environmental hardships

A common contributor to stress is environmental factors. You may have recently lost your job, be facing severe financial hardship, or have suffered the loss of a close relationship—and the stress from these experiences may be provoking your lower back pain symptoms.

See How Does Stress Cause Back Pain?

It is often a good idea to find assistance through counseling or therapy to relieve stress caused by environmental hardships. A trained mental health counselor or psychologist can teach you strategies to cope with, and minimize, the causes of your stress. For example, she or he can teach you to plan in advance, and also help with developing strategies to deal with the difficult people in your life.

What is stress-related lower back pain?

When we speak of treating stress-related lower back pain, what we are referring to is lower back pain in which psychological and emotional factors are of primary influence. This means psychological and emotional factors either started your back pain symptoms, or they are the cause of your continuing pain.

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Stress-related back pain is not a traditional medical diagnosis, but stress may be one of the most common causes of back pain.

How stress-related lower back pain is diagnosed

Unfortunately, the diagnosis of stress-related back pain is not used by most medical professionals; but only those who are accepting of mind-body influences. As such, it is very unlikely that your primary care doctor (or medical specialist) will broach the possibility of stress being the primary cause of your symptoms.

See Getting an Accurate Back Pain Diagnosis

When it comes to diagnosing stress-related lower back pain, the typical patient experience is that all other possible reasons for your back pain are first ruled out. These include underlying conditions like a herniated disc and degenerative disc disease, as well as more serious conditions such as tumors. In the vast majority of cases, after other causes are ruled out people with stress-related back pain are diagnosed with some type of “sprain-strain” (in traditional medical nomenclature).

After this diagnosis, it is then often up to the patient to make the possible connection between their stress and their back pain. Once this possibility is broached with your physician, a more fruitful dialogue can then occur. In turn, your primary care physician might be able to help with a referral to the appropriate treatment professional to address the relationship between your stress and your back pain.

See The Diagnosis of Stress-Related Back Pain

Learn more:

4 Tips to Help Cope With Chronic Pain and Depression

Diagnosing Lower Back Pain

Dr. William Deardorff is a clinical health psychologist and specializes in providing psychological services to patients with chronic pain and spinal conditions. He has led a private practice for more than 30 years.