Is my low back pain caused by stress?

The short answer is, “possibly”.  But not definitely.  In this article I’ll outline why that is the honest answer to “is my low back pain caused by stress?”  You see, pain is complicated.  But I’ll break it down. And I’ll make it as simple as I can.

The main points I’ll cover are

  • The variables involved in pain.  These come from my own equation for pain.
  • The mechanisms behind stress as a factor
  • How to recognise stress as a factor for you
  • What works for stress-related pain

What are the variables in low back pain?

Let me introduce you to my equation for pain.  It might look complicated, but note there are only addition and subtraction signs.  That means that no trigonometry or calculus is required here.


In this equation, P means the amount of pain you feel. And the variable that’s important to you is (NO-PO).  Which stands for Negative Outlook minus Positive Outlook.  Outlook is made up of your mood and your attitudes.  And mood and attitudes affect outlook.  The more stressed you are, the more of a negative outlook you will have.  Whether you know it or not.  And the cheery face you put on every morning doesn’t hide what’s going in below the surface.  I mean what’s happening at a deep physiological level inside you.  Which brings me to mechanisms. (If you want to know how the rest of the equation for pain breaks down, click the hyperlink.)

How your low back pain is caused by stress

When you are stressed, you produce adrenalin and other hormones and neurotransmitters (messenger chemicals in the brain).  These effectively sensitise the pain pathways.  Which makes them more likely to fire.  Now, if you want to dive deep into this topic, here’s an article on the relationship between chronic stress and chronic pain.

It doesn’t really matter whether your stress is caused by your pain.  Or whether it is a separate issue.  All negative stress will increase your pain levels. That’s a fact.

How to recognise stress as a factor for you

Do you have pain that seems to come and go.?  Without an obvious connection to your movement/posture?  If so, then it’s likely stress is one of the reasons.  You may also have one or more of the below:

  • General fatigue
  • Sensitivity to light/noise/touch
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor sleep
  • Not feeling refreshed after sleep

What to do if your low back pain is caused by stress

Don’t panic.  You have to treat the cause and not the symptom.  Taking painkillers has its place.  But it won’t help in the long-run.

Going back to the equation for pain… You want to develop a more positive outlook.  And no.. that doesn’t just mean thinking yourself better.  It means finding tools that help you to frame things more positively. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness Meditation help.   And watching funny movies can help.  And doing things you enjoy is good too.  Also, don’t forget the importance of positivity in your relationships.  So spend time with friends who lift you up.  Cut out the negative folk.  I know it sounds ruthless, but it’s important.

Summary points for “Is my low back pain caused by stress?”

  • Stress is a factor for many of us
  • It’s to do with the chemicals we produce under stress – especially long-standing stress
  • Treat the cause and not the symptom
  • Develop a positive outlook
  • Spend more time on activities you enjoy
  • Hang out with upbeat people – not those that drain you