Is There a Link Between Back Pain and Depression?
Is There a Link Between Back Pain and Depression?
Many of you may be aware of a link between back pain and depression. That is, if you sufferer from chronic back pain you may also experience depression due to the severity of the pain. It may prevent you from sleeping and eating well and limit you from being physically active. This is true. Well, what if I told you it may also work the other way: if you experience depression, this may increase your chances of subsequently experiencing lower back pain.
A study published in the Arthritis Care and Research Journal says that people experiencing symptoms of depression had a much higher incidence of back pain compared to those displaying no symptoms of depression.
To quote from the article’s conclusion:
“Individuals with symptoms of depression have an increased risk of developing an episode of lower back pain in the future, with the risk being higher in patients with more severe levels of depression.”
Further, the studys' authors say that patients with more severe levels of depression experienced worse back pain.
The research analyzed previous research from 11 studies that involved 23,109 participants and it found that people with depression are more likely to develop back pain over their lifetime. It’s the first time that studies have pointed to depression itself as a trigger for episodic back pain, rather than the back pain being caused by injury of some type.
Back pain in Australia
University of Sydney’s Paulo Ferreira says that 61,000 cases of back pain in Australia may be partially attributed to depression and that treatment of patients with back pain becomes more difficult when depression is also a factor as normal treatment regimens don’t work, or don’t work as well on those patients.
In such cases, he noted, back pain and depression need to be treated simultaneously and that treatment may take longer or it may be less effective – or both.
Back pain is thought to affect the lives of 4 million Australians and people in the 40 to 50 year old age bracket are most susceptible to both back pain and depression.
Some common statistics on the prevalence of lower back pain in the community include, but are not limited to:
- Up to 80% of the community will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives
- 10% of Australians will experience significant disability as a result of this back pain
These statistics come from research published in The Medical Journal of Australia and support a push for lower back pain being classified as a national health priority area.
Causes of back pain linked to depression
Although the research published in the Arthritis Care and Research Journal didn’t cover the causes of back pain linked to depression, there may be reasons by depression influences back pain, as follows:
- People with depression are more likely to have lower levels of physical activity combined with poor sleep due to neurotransmitter issues. These may affect mood and pain in the human body.
- Genetics may play a role as the report suggests some people may actually be genetically prone to a combination of back pain and depression
- Other back pain studies have found that up to 48% of all people experiencing back pain also manifested symptoms of depression
It’s clear that there is some correlation between lower back pain and depression, but does correlation equate to causation? The jury is still out.
Further research is needed to explore the relationship between the two conditions. So while this current round of research tells us there may be a correlation, it doesn’t specifically identify why, or if the two variables are inter-connected.
Why should we be concerned with depression?
Beyond Blue, an Australian independent non-profit organisation that works to address mental health issues, provides some alarming statistics on depression in Australia, as follows:
- It's estimated that in Australia 45% of people will experience a mental health condition during their life
- Furthermore, in any given year, approximately 1 million Australian adults will experience depression
- Over 2 million Australians experience anxiety
We need to think more about our own mental health and the mental health of those around us. You see, mental health is more about wellness than it is about illness. It means being able to take satisfaction and pleasure in everyday life.
Why should we be concerned with back pain?
A 2011 analysis into the burden of disease in Australia revealed musculoskeletal problems (including back pain) to be the fourth leading contributor to total burden after cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and mental and substance use disorders.
Research also points to back pain and intervertebral disc disorders as the most significant work-related problems in the National Health Survey 2004-05 and were more frequently reported than other conditions such as asthma, hypertension and osteoarthritis.
In short, back pain can really stop you in your tracks and make life miserable. Back pain can prevent you from enjoying your favourite activities, playing sport and enjoying the little things in life that have the potential to give you so much joy.
So not only do we need to look out for those of us who experience back pain, we need to support those who experience depression. As the research suggests, the two areas may be intricately linked.
Take a Proactive Step
It seems that those people who participate in regular physical activity may shield themselves from both pain and depression by increasing the production of ‘good’ hormones in the body. Good hormones such as tryptophan, melatonin and serotonin, allow you to feel less pain and may help you to receive better sleep.
Now, chiropractic care may help you to participate in regular physical activity by improving your biomechanics, keeping your spine flexible and your posture straight.
Always see your local G.P. or Doctor of Chiropractic before embarking on a new exercise prgram, and remember, even small amounts of regular exercise can lead to big payoffs in general health, your mood, improved sleep patterns and in the repair of injuries.
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-Dr. Omar Ayouby (Chiropractor)
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