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Could stress be causing my low back pain?

Could stress be causing my low back pain?

Stress causes a wide range of multi-systemic health problems both directly and indirectly. People who experience longstanding stress can potentially develop poor immune system function. This indirectly increases the likelihood of illness. Moreover, sustained stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol hormone (i.e., ‘stress hormone’). Furthermore, it also reduces serotonin (i.e., an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood and social behaviour, appetite, sleep and memory) and dopamine (i.e., regulates reward motivated behaviour). These changes have been linked to depression. But, can stress lead to back pain? In this Balmain Chiropractic Centre blog, Martin, our resident chiropractor, will discuss the effects of stress on low back pain.


Biological stress is defined as the neurophysiological response to a stressor, such as an environmental condition, demand or threat. It is the bodies way of reacting to such conditions by temporarily dedicating energy to more relevant body systems to avoid threats. An example of this is raising heart output in preparation for a quick escape if needed. Stress is regulating by action on the central nervous system. We call this the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Stress is an important response to potentially harmful stimuli. But, to a certain point, prolonged stress stops being helpful and in fact can begin to cause insidious health issues. Now more than ever in today’s developed societies, people live with prolonged levels of low- medium-grade stress. The prevalence of stress-related health issues (e.g., anxiety, depression, chronic pain, weight gain, heart and lung issues) are on the increase.

Stress is a multifactorial and complex issue. Because of this, there are many factors that can lead to stress. It can potentially affect multiple body systems indirectly, making confident causal links difficult to know for sure.

Back pain

Back pain is the most common musculoskeletal disorder in the world. It affects up to 80% of people at some point in their lives. Back pain is also a complex issue that also has multi-systemic impact. Low back pain is the unpleasant sensation felt in the lumbar area due to conditions affecting surrounding soft tissue.

Back pain has many contributing factors. Some of these factors include older age, obesity and poor physical health and exercise and genetic factors. Another factor is stress.

People who suffer from longstanding low back pain can begin to experience pain in a different way to others. This is called central sensitisation and is associated with chronic pain. Central sensitisation causes a ‘wind-up’ in the central nervous system. Pain itself modifies the central nervous system so that people become more sensitive and have more pain with less provocation. These changes can increase the likelihood of mental health disorders like depression.

Stress and low back pain

Studies have shown links between pain and depression and stress being a trigger. Chronic low back pain is a stress factor in itself, but together with depression, they negatively affect each other. Depression is related with higher pain intensity and a lower threshold for pain and pain tolerance. Pain increases negative affect, which promotes association with previous unpleasant experiences. Furthermore, pain itself induces stress, since it can cause cortisol release leading to depression.

Finally, the best way to deal with emotional stress is to down-play psychotherapeutic treatment and improve inner resources like coping strategies and mindfulness. This increases relaxation, presence, self-worth and happiness. These appear to be good self-management strategies to reduce stress in people with chronic low back pain.

At Balmain Chiropractic Centre, our chiropractors are highly skilled and trained to treat low back pain provide evidence-based, individualised treatment plans for patients. Visit us at our Inner West clinic today.

More information

Please visit our website and blog pages for more information on what causes back pain:

Balmain Chiropractic Centre is the chiropractic division of Sydney Spine & Sports Centre.


Room 1 - Shop 86, 24 Buchanan Street Balmain 2041 NSW Australia


Phone (02) 80211172