Exploring the Mind-Body Connection and Finding Relief for Back Pain

We’ve all experienced stress at some point in our lives – that familiar tightness in your chest, the racing thoughts, or maybe even the feeling of a thousand-pound weight on your shoulders. Stress is like an uninvited guest that barges into our lives without warning.

But did you know this unwelcome intruder can be the surprising culprit behind that persistent back pain you can’t shake off? [1] Yes, the discomfort in your back intricately connects to your mental and emotional well-being.

In this blog, we’ll explore this intriguing connection between stress and back pain. Together, we’ll uncover the surprising role stress plays in your discomfort and explore effective strategies to find relief, ultimately restoring harmony to your mind and body.


stressed out man at work

The Relationship Between Stress and Back Pain

The link between stress and back pain is a fascinating puzzle involving physical and emotional well-being.[2] Stress comes in different forms, with acute stress arising from intense, short-lived situations and chronic stress sticking around for longer periods.

  • Acute Stress: When we face acute stress, like a sudden crisis, our bodies respond with a fight-or-flight reaction. This can lead to muscle tension as our bodies prepare to deal with the perceived threat.
  • Chronic Stress: Due to ongoing issues like work pressure or personal challenges, chronic stress leads to a sustained release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, that trigger unwanted effects, including muscle tension and inflammation, both critical factors in developing back pain.

The connection between stress and back pain gets interesting when we consider how our bodies react to ongoing or intense stress. The muscle tension caused by stress can strain the muscles in the back, potentially causing discomfort or pain. Additionally, the changes in posture that often accompany stress can misalign your spine, adding more strain to your back.

In essence, stress and back pain go hand in hand in a few key ways:

  • Muscle Tension: Stress makes the muscles in your back tighten up, leading to stiffness and discomfort.
  • Increased Pain Sensitivity: Stress can make your body more sensitive to pain. Research even suggests that big life events can change how your brain processes pain signals, affecting pain perception.[3]
  • Inflammation: Chronic stress can stir up inflammation throughout the body, including the back, which may result in pain.[4]
  • Poor Posture: Stress often alters your breathing patterns and causes your shoulders to hunch up, increasing strain and tension in your upper and middle back.
  • Reduced Blood Flow: Stress can constrict blood vessels, reducing blow flow to your back muscles and potentially causing pain.


stressed out man with back pain at work

What does back pain from stress feel like?

Stress-related back pain isn’t one-size-fits-all; it can wear different masks depending on where it hits you.

Lower back pain typically feels like a dull or sharp ache, accompanied by stiffness or muscle spasms. Sometimes, it might even spread down your legs or into your buttocks.

Upper back pain, on the other hand, can show up as a burning or stabbing sensation, or you could experience a tightness or pressure between your shoulder blades. Occasionally, upper back pain can even send twinges of discomfort into your arms or chest.


How to tell if your back pain is from stress

Identifying stress as the precise cause of back pain can be tricky because back pain can stem from various sources. However, there are some clues that could point towards stress as the likely suspect:

  • Physical and Emotional Stress: If you’ve been wrestling with a lot of physical or emotional stress, whether it’s from a demanding job or a challenging relationship, your back pain might be stress-related.
  • Gradual Onset: If your back pain has crept in slowly over time instead of hitting you suddenly, it could be a sign that the culprit is stress-related muscle tension.
  • Lack of Other Symptoms: When your back pain shows up without additional symptoms like numbness, tingling, or weakness, and the pain isn’t overwhelmingly severe, it might be due to stress.
  • On-and-Off Pain: Stress-related back pain tends to ebb and flow, depending on your stress levels, unlike pain caused by an injury or medical condition, which usually remains more constant.
  • Stress Management Success: If your pain eases up when you engage in stress-reducing activities like exercise or deep breathing, there’s a good chance that stress plays a role in your discomfort.


woman stretching to relieve back pain

How to Relieve Back Pain from Stress

When it comes to managing stress-related back pain, there are a variety of approaches you can explore:

  1. Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can effectively alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.
  2. Heat Therapy: Applying heat to the affected area can work wonders for relaxing tight muscles and easing discomfort.[5] Try a heating pad, a hot water bottle, or a warm bath to find relief.
  3. Massage: Massaging the area causing pain can help release tension and minimize discomfort. Try experimenting with self-massage techniques or consider scheduling a session with a professional massage therapist for a deeper, more soothing experience.
  4. Stretching: Incorporating stretches targeting the lower back can be incredibly helpful.[6] Moves like knee-to-chest and cat-cow stretches are great choices to release tension in your back muscles effectively.
  5. Exercise: Regular physical activity can be a powerful way to battle against stress-related back pain.[7] Activities like yoga, swimming, or even brisk walks can promote relaxation, improve posture, and strengthen the muscles that support your spine.


woman practicing mindfulness at sunset

Tips for Stress Relief

Here are some tips to help with stress relief:

  1. Eat a Nutritious Diet: A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables isn’t just good for your overall health; it can reduce inflammation and boost your mood.
  2. Practice Relaxation Techniques: Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are great tools for stress reduction. They help calm your mind and promote a sense of relaxation.
  3. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves living in the present moment and observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. It’s a great way to manage stress and navigate your emotions effectively.
  4. Get Enough Sleep: Ensuring sufficient rest is crucial for stress management. Poor sleep can exacerbate stress, while quality sleep can refresh your mind and body.

Remember, the key is finding techniques that work best for you. Combining a few of these strategies and making them a part of your daily routine can significantly relieve stress-related back pain.


woman free of back pain

Your Path to a Pain-Free Future Begins with Sonoran Pain and Spine

Stress-induced back pain is a real concern for many, but the good news is that there are numerous strategies to address it effectively. From pain relief methods and stress management techniques to lifestyle adjustments, there’s a world of possibilities to explore!

At Sonoran Pain and Spine, we specialize in identifying the root causes of your back pain and providing personalized, non-surgical pain management plans to suit your specific needs so that you can get back to enjoying your everyday life.

Don’t wait – take action today.  Schedule an appointment to start your journey toward a pain-free future.



  1. “Chronic Pain and Chronic Stress: Two Sides of the Same Coin? – PMC.” 8 Jun. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5546756/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2023.
  2. “Association between chronic low back pain and degree of stress.” 15 Jul. 2021, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34267269/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2023.
  3. “Stress and Self-Efficacy as Long-Term Predictors for Chronic Low ….” 24 Mar. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7125403/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2023.
  4. “Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases.” 20 Jun. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476783/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2023.
  5. “A Role for Superficial Heat Therapy in the Management of Non ….” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8401625/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2023.
  6. “Stretching in the rehabilitation of low-back pain patients – PubMed.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1533060/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2023.
  7. “A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity ….” 25 Apr. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934575/. Accessed 18 Oct. 2023.