Lower back pain is one of the most common physical problems we will experience throughout our lives from causing difficulty working to trouble sleeping, it can be a major hassle.
But did you know that your emotions can influence your pain level and intensity?
In this article I take a deep dive and explore the relationship of emotions and lower back pain.
- What is the incidence of lower back pain?
- What emotions can make lower back pain worse?
- What emotions can make lower back pain better?
- Can I reframe my emotions and decrease my pain?
- What is cognitive behavioral therapy CBT?
- How does CBT help reduce pain?
- An example of the emotional downward spiral of lower back pain
- Is there an easy fix for pain?
- The pain-relieving benefits of laughter
- What are the short-term effects of laughter?
- What are the long-term effects of laughter?
- What is the science behind the pain-relieving effects of laughter?
What is the incidence of lower back pain?
Low back pain is a leading cause of disability in the United States with up to 80% of people experiencing at least one pain episode in their lifetime
Some of the most common reasons for low back pain are disc injuries, sciatica, lifting heavy objects, repetitive strain injuries and acute injuries via a forcible impact such as a car crash.
However, even though back pain is incredibly common, not all people respond in the same way to the condition.
You can have two people with the same level of pain but their responses to that pain can be very different.
These differing responses are due in part to different people’s psychological attitudes, emotions and future outlooks.
Here i explore what emotions are connected to lower back pain.
What emotions can make lower back pain worse?
It has been shown in scientific research that these have all been linked with higher pain intensity, lower pain tolerance, greater use of pain medication, increased fatigue, poor quality of life, and higher levels of psychiatric comorbidity.
Many people can fall into a negative continuing cycle of feeling sad and helpless because of their pain.
They attempt to try an activity which they were able to do before their problem but they are unable to do currently,
They attempt the activity and fail…
This leads to increased emotional stress, a greater feeling of helplessness, increased sadness, anger which simply compounds the problem.
This downward spiral can continue driving the individual into depression and other associated negative thoughts.
What emotions can make lower back pain better?
These positive states have been linked with lower pain rating and intensity scores, increased tolerance of pain, longer tolerance, decreased use of pain medication, greater walking times post-surgery.
Can I reframe my emotions and decrease my pain?
Yes you can!
There have been many studies looking at psychological interventions and their ability to reduce the pain experienced by the subjects involved.
Many of these studies used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as the intervention, which lead to decreased pain intensity and an improvement in overall mood and attitude to the subjects pain.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy CBT?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior and emotions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing the automatic negative thoughts that can contribute to and worsen emotional difficulties, depression, and anxiety. These spontaneous negative thoughts have a detrimental influence on mood.
How does CBT help reduce pain?
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps provide pain relief in a few ways.
First, it changes the way people view their pain.
CBT can change the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to pain, it can improve coping strategies, and put the pain felt into a better context.
Simply put, you recognize that the pain interferes less with your quality of life, and therefore you can function better.
CBT can also change the physical response in the brain that makes pain worse.
Pain causes stress, and stress affects pain control chemicals in the brain, such as norepinephrine and serotonin.
CBT can reduce the arousal that impacts these chemicals which, in effect, may make the body’s natural pain relief response more powerful.
An example of the emotional downward spiral of lower back pain
A patient gets locked into a thought habit like, ‘I should be able to do everything I used to do’ and then feel discouraged when their pain cues them to rest a bit or pace themselves.”
In this case, the therapist would work with the patient to generate an alternative thought process, such as,
“My body is different now. I accept that I will pace myself today and be proud of what I accomplish.”
Like any modality with CBT, you get out what you put in. Training your brain to act differently doesn’t happen overnight and takes some practice of course.
You need to be committed to making a change and sticking with the program.
However, there is another surprisingly effective method which can positively affect our emotions and can have a positive impact on our pain levels.
Is there an easy fix for pain?
You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine but did you know this has actually been studied as a method in pain reduction?
It has been shown in research that pain thresholds are significantly higher after laughter than in the control condition.
This pain-tolerance effect is due to laughter itself and not simply due to a change in positive affect.
The pain-relieving benefits of laughter
When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.
What are the short-term effects of laughter?
- Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
- A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
- Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
What are the long-term effects of laughter?
Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long term. Laughter may:
- Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity.
- By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
- Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
- Increase personal satisfaction.
Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
- Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses.
- Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.
What is the science behind the pain-relieving effects of laughter?
The pain-relieving properties of laughter are thought to be brought about by endorphins
Endorphins are a class of endogenous opioid peptides produced in the central nervous system (CNS) that not only function as neurotransmitters but also play a crucial role in the management of pain through their analgesic properties.
Beta-endorphin, in particular, appears to play a critical role in buffering the organism against the effects of physiological and psychological stress.
It would be fair to say we all like a chuckle now and again but maybe we should put it higher up our list of priorities to ensure we have a side splitting time a few times a week.
Everyone has a different taste in humor but finding stand up comediennes you like, comedy shows, sit coms or simply shooting the breeze with your buddies can bring about huge benefits in pain relief and mental health.
Make a point to laugh more folks!
If you or someone you know is struggling with chronic lower back/sciatica pain, get them to sign up for my weekly pain recovery emails here.
The recovery can be a long road and I have worked with hundreds of individuals over the years putting them on the right path to reduce their chronic pain and lead a normal life again.
If you want to tackle your problem head on and jump right in to begin the recovery journey you should check out my 21 day lower back pain recovery program here.
Until next time folks stay positive, stay safe and laugh a lot.