People with chronic back pain are more likely to experience mental health difficulties, according to a study published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry. To date, this study is the largest of its kind.
According to the National Library of Medicine, back pain affects 8 in 10 people at some point in their lives. Worldwide, chronic low back pain affects nearly 1 in 10 people.
The Link Between Back Pain and Mental Health
Researchers analyzed data from 190,593 adults from 19 low-income and 24 middle-income countries. The data came from the World Health Survey 2002-2004.
Findings showed back pain was common, affecting 35.1% of the studied population, with 6.9% experiencing chronic back pain. Back pain varied from country to country, with those in China reporting the lowest rate (13.7%). Back pain was most prevalent in Nepal with a rate of 57.1%. Despite this variation, researchers found no association between a nation’s socioeconomic status and back pain prevalence.
Back pain nearly tripled the odds of experiencing an episode of depression. It doubled the likelihood of experiencing psychosis, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and high stress. As a result, the study’s authors emphasize the value of integrated treatment options that address both mental and physical health.
Therapy for Chronic Pain
Depression and other mental health conditions can reduce a person’s ability to manage chronic pain, potentially causing both physical and mental health to deteriorate. Pain can lower quality of life, which may further exacerbate mental health conditions.
Therapy can help people with chronic pain, including back pain, manage their symptoms. The American Chronic Pain Association recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—which aims to correct negative thought patterns—as a particularly helpful treatment option. CBT can boost coping skills and reduce pain sensitivity. It can also help change the way people behave in response to pain. By encouraging exercise, self-care, medical treatment, and other strategies, therapy may reduce pain’s psychological toll and its physical reality.
- Back pain. (n.d.). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/backpain.html
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). (n.d.). American Chronic Pain Association. Retrieved from https://theacpa.org/treatment/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-cbt
- Stubbs, B., Koyanagi, A., Thompson, T., Veronese, N., Carvalho, A. F., Solomi, M., . . . Vancampfort, D. (2016). The epidemiology of back pain and its relationship with depression, psychosis, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and stress sensitivity: Data from 43 low- and middle-income countries. General Hospital Psychiatry,43, 63-70. doi:10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2016.09.008
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