The link between back pain, stress, and your emotional wellbeing
National Physiotherapy Back Week takes place annually during the second week of September to promote healthy living and educate how to prevent and manage back and neck pain.
Brett Manson, a physiotherapist in the Theewaterskloof sub-district, says that pain can be experienced for long periods after the actual injury. “Pain is an aversive sensory and emotional experience typically caused by actual or potential tissue injury. Pain can be experienced for months after an injury even when an injury has healed, showing us that pain is aggravated by our emotional experience and other factors aside from tissue damage.”
He says acute pain is normally experienced in the first six weeks to three months after an injury. Brett explains that chronic pain is pain that continues for more than three months, even after the injury has healed. Chronic pain can be massively disabling and difficult to manage. It is closely linked to emotional difficulties such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.
Brett explains the link between back pain, stress, and emotional wellbeing. “Often chronic pain has nothing to do with an injury or a problem with bones or imbalance. It is predominantly our emotional wellbeing that makes this pain much worse. Some people can experience back pain even after the injury has healed. There is more to pain than just injury. Sleep difficulties, financial and emotional stress, as well as past traumas can further increase constant pain. How we manage our stress, our thoughts and deal with issues can sometimes be the best way to also deal with our back pain.”
To manage back pain, a holistic approach is needed. Brett says that people often only rely on passive treatment from medications and medical professionals, but that looking after our mental and emotional wellbeing plays a key role in improving pain. “We need to manage the injury appropriately, work on our sleep and the root of what is causing us stress, as well as find ways to cope with the pain.”
Research shows us that moderate exercise is an important aspect of addressing back pain and our emotional wellbeing. “The crucial point here is to that with too little exercise, we are stiff and sore, and with too much exercise, we can make the pain worse. It is crucial to get the perfect balance,” says Brett.
Recommendations from the World Confederation of Physiotherapy is to sit less and move more by doing moderate intensity exercise for 150 minutes a week. Moderate intensity exercise includes cycling, swimming, brisk walking, gardening, household chores, running, competitive sports, skipping, aerobics and manual work. You can also add balance exercises to improve strength and prevent falls. This can include resilience, balance and agility training, such as Pilates.
“My advice to people remains the same. Exercise doesn’t have to be gym work, running marathons or climbing mountains. It can be as simply as housework, gardening or even just regular walking. Do the exercise you can do and the exercise you enjoy. If you can walk, then walk. Choose a realistic distance, don’t do too much,” advises Brett.
“Remember that addressing chronic back pain takes time. Once we get our emotional well-being in check, and we begin to manage the swelling causing the pain, our immune system will improve and the sensitive nerves will start to be less sensitive. It is a process, and we need to be patient with ourselves. Remembering that it took months and years for this pain to get to this point, it will take some time to work through,” explains Brett.
If you are in significant pain, you need to get medical help. Speak to the nurse at the local clinic to get some pain medication and advise on exercise and lifestyle adjustments. If necessary, the nurse will refer you to the correct medical professional for further treatment.