Although it is widely accepted that any psychological and emotional stress can make back pain worse, the idea that these non-physical forces can actually be the primary cause of your back pain takes things one step further.

While stress related back pain as a psychosomatic or psycho-physiological condition may not be the most well known theory, it is by no means a new one.

In fact, it can be traced as far back as the 1820’s. In his book From Paralysis to Disease, Dr Edward Shorter describes the history of psychosomatic disease and what was called back then “spinal irritation” which is essentially the equivalent to our modern day stress related back pain.


Spinal irritation was a widely diagnosed condition up until the early 1900’s and was accepted by both patients and doctors alike even though there was no visible pathology. Interestingly though, the most common treatment back then was purely physical and the patients would be recommended to keep “rigid maintenance of the horizontal position”.

Our better understanding of both the physical and psychological worlds now lets us understand the problem with the treatment of keeping “rigid maintenance of the horizontal position” (which basically means bed rest) is that it just keeps the patient stuck in the pain cycle by:

– Reducing the amount of physical activity during work or leisure activities.

– The reduced work load is for fear of aggravating or worsening a structural injury.

– This fear may be made worse by doctors advice to “take it easy”.

– The decrease in physical work leads to physical de-conditioning and muscle weakening.

– That weakening leads to more pain, more fear and more physical conditions which in turn lead to bigger issues like social isolation, depression and anxiety.

The study of psychosomatic illnesses or emotional stress and trauma leading to physical symptoms has been very widely studied and researched over the last few decades. Some of the leading experts such as Louise Hay believe there is a very close relationship to what type of emotional or psychological stress you are dealing with and the physical symptoms you will display.

back pain, neck pain, stress2

In her book You Can Heal Your Life she explains that the back in a physical sense has the job of being the main support structure to hold up our body. So the main metaphysical causes for back pain will most likely be a feeling of a lack of support in some area. She explains that the different areas of the back represent different emotional stresses:

Upper back: Lack of emotional support. Feeling unloved. Holding back love.

Mid back: Guilt. “Get off my back”. Stuck in all that stuff “back there”.

Lower back: Lack of financial support. Fear of money.

Sciatica: Fear of the future. Being hypocritical.

So if bed rest leads to more muscle wastage and more pain – which in turn leads to more emotional stress and depression – which in turn leads to more physical de-conditioning and more pain – which in turn leads to more stress and so on and so on – how do we get off this painful roundabout?

The best advice comes from leading human behaviour specialists like Anthony Robbins and Dr. John Demartini. These two always recommend “inner self” working to help build self esteem, let go of old emotional baggage, envisage what type of life you want to lead and then set your goals and go out and live that life. Not letting anything or anyone get in the way of you living your “perfect life”.

This coupled with making sure you move your body in a controlled gentle manner as much as you can to prevent any physical decline and you should be well and truly on your way to beating your stress related back pain.

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