At our busy chiropractic clinic in Ealing, our chiropractors see hundreds of patients dealing with back pain each year. It can be a very traumatic experience for the patient, as their back pain can dramatically impact their quality of life — making it harder to work, sleep and remain active.
Over the years, we have noticed how chronic back pain can also affect a patient’s mental health. Patients with back pain often say they feel stressed, mentally exhausted, anxious or depressed.
There have been several studies which have confirmed our observations. A recent large-scale study with over 190,000 participants found that chronic back and neck pain was associated with increased risk of anxiety, mood disorders, and alcohol abuse.
In this post, our Ealing chiropractor share some details of this study and explain how back pain and mental health are linked and also explain how chiropractic care can help.
The Largest Study Into Mental Health And Back Pain
The study, published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, confirmed that there is a strong link between mental health and chronic back pain.
To reach their findings, the research team used the data of 190,595 individuals from 43 countries. The data came from the World Health Survey, which was collected between 2002-2004 by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The survey found that 35.1% of participants experienced back pain, with 6.9% having chronic back pain. Interestingly, some countries had far less back pain, like China with 13.7%, while others had more, like Nepal with 57.1%.
The research team’s analysis of the data found that people with back pain were more than twice as likely to suffer from one of five mental conditions — depression, anxiety, stress, sleep deprivation and psychosis.
Participants with chronic back pain had it even worse. They were three times more likely to experience depression and 2.6 times more likely to experience psychosis.
he researchers noted that further research was required to understand the link between mental health and back pain, writing: “Further research is required to find out more about the links between these problems and to ensure effective treatments can be developed. It is also important that healthcare professionals are made aware of this link to refer patients to other services if necessary.”
A Negative Feedback Loop
An article published on the Harvard Medical School website explained why back pain may be linked so closely with mental health disorders.
When back problems limit movement and cause pain, they trigger psychological distress. If a person has pre-existing psychological attitudes or brain chemistry abnormalities, it will be very difficult for them to deal with this distress. It can quickly turn into anxiety, emotional trauma and stress. Back pain can also take up all of a person’s attention, making it all-consuming.
If the pain is chronic it can even affect how the brain is wired. It can force the brain to switch away from the pain-sensitivity circuits to the circuits which process emotion. This leads to more mental stress and anxiety.
Unfortunately, conditions like anxiety can worsen pain even more. There is some evidence to suggest that anxiety makes people more sensitive to pain. This leads to a negative feedback loop, where back pain causes anxiety and anxiety increases pain sensitivity.
The author of the Harvard piece notes that people with coping strategies can mitigate how much psychological stress they experience. So, a person who sees a chiropractor for chiropractic treatment or uses mindfulness meditation to calm their mind may experience less psychological stress.
How Chiropractic Care Can Help
Chiropractors use a variety of treatments to address the underlying issues which cause back pain. This includes chiropractic adjustments, massage, physical therapy, hot and cold therapies, electrical stimulation/ultrasound and lifestyle adjustments.
It is a holistic approach for treating back pain, which has been scientifically proven to be effective. A 2018 study found that after six weeks of chiropractic treatment, participants with back pain experienced less pain intensity, less disability and less need for pain medication.
If you are struggling with back pain, our experienced chiropractors are here to help you. You can book a visit with our leading chiropractic clinic in Ealing, The Spine & Joint Centre, by calling 020 8900 9004.