Move Empower Concierge Physical Therapy Austin TX
Woman sitting at desk looking stressed holding her back due to back pain

I'm busy, stressed, and have back pain…What can I do?

Stress and back pain often go hand in hand. In fact, you’ve probably noticed that your back pain stresses you out…and that your stress causes back pain…and before you know it, you’re on the pain hamster wheel going round and round.


Stress can cause muscles to tighten leading to pain and tension in the back. In turn, back pain can also add to feelings of stress and anxiety. So, what can you do to manage both?


First, it’s important to understand the connection between stress and back pain. When we’re stressed, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. This means that our muscles tense up and our heart rate increases, preparing us for action. Muscles that tend to be affected by stress include the neck, lower back, and shoulders.  Overtime, this chronic muscle tension can cause headaches, neck and lower back pain.


Exercise Your Pain and Stress Away

One way to manage stress and back pain is through exercise.   Exercise is a powerful tool in reducing pain because it affects many of the bodies systems.  Musculoskeletally, exercise increases blood flow bringing oxygen and nutrients to sore muscles.  Another body system which exercise has a strong influence over is the endocrine system. It is here where your “happy hormones,” serotonin and endorphins are controlled.  During exercise, these hormones are released and help improve mood, concentration, and depression.


Activities like yoga, walking, and swimming can be great for both stress management and back pain relief.


Breathe Your Stress and Pain Away with Relaxation Techniques

Another way to manage stress and back pain is through relaxation techniques. This can include things like deep breathing exercises, meditation, or even listening to calming music. These techniques can help slow down the heart rate and release muscle tension. Personally, I’m a big fan of using breathing exercises to improve stress. Of the many techniques, research now shows that one technique may be the best: it’s called cyclic breathing.


Here’s how you do mindful breathing techniques:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose, expanding the lungs, and then take 1 more breath on top of the first breath.
  3. Briefly hold the breath, and then exhale out the mouth.
  4. Repeat for 5 minutes.
  5. Try daily to see a noticeable difference.
Woman standing outside with hands on chest practicing mindful breathing techniques to decrease stress and back pain

Improved Sleep, Improved Pain

This probably goes without saying, but getting the proper amount of sleep is a powerful tool to improve both stress and pain.  Poor quality sleep has been shown to increase one’s sensitivity to pain in folks suffering with chronic pain. Think of this as your body’s pain receptors being on heightened alert.  As 2001 study by One et al.  showed, a single night of total sleep deprivation has been shown to induce generalized hyperalgesia and increase state anxiety in healthy people. 


So what can you do to improve your sleep quality:

  1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
  2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine to help signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.
  3. Make sure your sleeping environment is dark, quiet, and cool.
  4. Avoid screens (TV, phone, tablet, computer) for at least an hour before bedtime, as the blue light emitted by screens can suppress melatonin production.
  5. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals close to bedtime.
  6. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help calm your mind.
  7. Get exposure to natural light during the day, especially in the morning.


Clean up your diet to Relieve your pain

Your diet can play a significant role in how you feel. Of the many diets out there, a few have shown to have positive effects on pain and stress management.  These  include the Mediterranean diet, the anti-inflammatory diet, and the mind-body diet.


Here are some examples of INFLAMMATORY Foods:

  • Processed foods: These often contain added sugars, trans fats, and artificial ingredients that can contribute to inflammation in the body.
  • Refined carbohydrates: White bread, pasta, and pastries made with refined flour can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and inflammation.
  • Fried foods: Fried foods, particularly those cooked at high temperatures.
  • Dairy: Some people may have difficulty digesting lactose and casein, the main protein found in milk, which can cause inflammation.
  • Alcohol: Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can contribute to inflammation in the body, particularly in the liver.


As with anything new you add to your health regimen, It’s important to consult with a doctor or a registered dietitian to determine the best diet for your individual needs and health goals.


Consult with a specialist Physical Therapist:

In today’s world, there’s a “hack” for everything.  The DIY, culture is here to stay, and that’s great!  But sometimes you just need an extra set of eyes and ears to to help you get overcome a problem.  For back pain and back pain-related stress, an evaluation by an expert physical therapist is a great place to start.


At Move Empower Concierge PT,  we make this easy with our free Discovery Session with one of our expert manual therapists.  This complimentary 30min Zoom or phone call is a great way for us to learn more about your problem and determine if we are the best solution for you.


As you can see, stress and back pain are closely linked, and managing one can help with the other.  Exercise, relaxation techniques, sleep, and healthy eating can all help to relieve stress and reduce back pain. It’s a good idea to consult a doctor or physical therapist if your back pain persists or becomes severe, as they can provide personalized advice on how to manage it.

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