Back Pain May Worsen Mental Health Issues

Woman at work with lower back painPeople 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.


  1. Back pain. (n.d.). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from
  2. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). (n.d.). American Chronic Pain Association. Retrieved from
  3. 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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  • Leave a Comment
  • Dawn E

    December 9th, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    When it boils down to it I think that having to live with any type of chronic or recurring pain is going to be detrimental for many of us. It is not something that most of us know how to effectively cope with without medication and this one thing alone can be seriously harmful to most of us.

  • Drew

    December 10th, 2016 at 4:01 AM

    The one thing that I wish is that more doctors would help their patients find alternatives to medication when searching for solutions.

    I understand that there are going to be times when this is the only method of treatment which can bring some relief. But I also know that sometimes we jump to the medications first without ever trying to find anything else.

    I am not second guessing medical providers, because insisting on this would also be something that the patient should be responsible for as well.

  • Juniper

    December 11th, 2016 at 10:23 AM

    Maybe the Chinese do have as much back pin as other countries do but have developed better methods for alleviating the pain

  • Reg

    December 12th, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    I have had three back surgeries and still have not received any relief. I keep getting all these promises from my doctor that this time it will work but nothing has helped. I’m pretty much ready to give up

  • Taveon

    December 13th, 2016 at 2:46 PM

    can you imagine how hard it is to try to explain to someone just how pain you are in and they never seem to quite be able to get it? it’s frustrating knowing that there are people who think that you are exaggerating the pain or that you are looking for some way to get pain medication when for the most part it is that you would love to experience some relief and just know that you are being taken seriously.

  • caroline

    December 14th, 2016 at 7:43 AM

    Definitely true. My brother is a totally different person and not in a good way since he injured his back at work.
    They still kept a job for him but he will not ever be able to go back to his previous job which he loved. I think that overall that is very depressing for him because he loved what he did.

  • Christian

    December 15th, 2016 at 12:15 PM

    Sitting position and proper chair helps in pain relief

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