Can Back Pain Be Psychological?

When my pain level is at a constant eight or ten, all day, every day, yes, it most certainly affects me psychologically. So much so that I am unable to get a good night’s rest because I toss and turn all night. Not getting a healthy amount of sleep affects my mood, how I feel about myself as a professional, and how much patience I have as a parent. Depression because I am so tired and anxious because I fear the pain will last FOREVER. So yes, my back pain affects me psychologically.

While I have endured chronic pain for some time now, it has been primarily on my mid back, sciatica on my lower left back, and pelvic floor, which affects my back and causes nerve pain in my legs all over.

When my orthopedic was doing discovery testing to figure out where the back pain was originating from, he found that I also have arthritis in my left hip as well as torn meniscus and Baker’s cysts in both knees. I definitely need rehab but possibly knee surgery, too, which is really inconvenient as a full-time single mom of teenage sons. My time is priceless, literally, so a knee exercise machine may be what’s needed. Here are some of the tests they did:

  • MRI on lower back
  • MRI on both knees
  • Ultrasound on both knees
  • Ultrasound of pelvic floor
  • Xray on the lower back
  • Xray on both knees
  • Xray of pelvis

But before any surgery happens, I need to secure better insurance coverage as the plan I have at the moment absolutely does not cover the necessary physical therapy or the surgery to repair the torn meniscuses.

And then there is a woman I know who has had multiple back surgeries, and nothing has changed. It’s important to note that she has refused to participate in physical therapy in the fashion she needs. So, is her pain psychological in the way that she is choosing to stay in that state by not doing the necessary rehab? Or is it because of underlying psychological factors such as fear of pain, fear of failure, or a lack of motivation to commit to the rehabilitation process?

It is imperative to approach a case like this with empathy and understanding, as I can contest that chronic pain and the emotional toll it takes is extraordinarily complex and multifaceted. Professional support from my healthcare team, physical therapy, and pain management counseling is so beneficial in addressing any psychological barriers to recovery.

Pain and sleep deprivation

As mentioned earlier, I have a hard time sleeping because my pain wakes me up on multiple occasions. Oh yeah, add those super awesome hot flashes that I get at night now, too, and I really do not have any idea how much sleep I am getting. I have been thinking about recording myself while I sleep to see what exactly is going on.

According to Medical News Today, “Those who do not get enough sleep also frequently experience body pain, such as headaches, migraines, lower back pain, and chronic pain. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital say a specific neurotransmitter decreases during insufficient sleep, leaving the body more sensitized to pain,”.

This lack of sleep not only exacerbates my pain but also affects my daily functioning. I find it difficult to concentrate, my memory is not as sharp as it used to be, and I am more irritable and moody. The combination of pain and sleep deprivation is genuinely taking a toll on my physical and mental well-being.

In addition to the physical and cognitive effects, the emotional impact of chronic pain and sleep deprivation is also significant. It can lead to feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and even depression. It is challenging to maintain a positive outlook when you are constantly battling pain and fatigue.

I have tried various strategies to improve my sleep, such as establishing a bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine and electronics before bed, and creating a comfortable sleep environment. However, despite my efforts, the cycle of pain and sleep disruption continues.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Study after study indicates instead that back pain is very often caused by our thoughts, feelings, and resulting behaviors. And an exciting new study now demonstrates that treatments aimed at our beliefs and attitudes can really help,”.

They went on to note that, “The Journal of the American Medical Association that showed training people with chronic low back pain in either mindfulness or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works significantly better than medical care alone to reduce both their disability and pain-related suffering,”.

In the end, working with my psychologist and my physical therapist has been most beneficial as they both have helped me to see that since a portion of my pain is psychological, I have the power to at least minimize the intensity. Additionally, I found a deep-tissue massage therapist that is amazing and helps me keep the intensity at bay. Visits with my acupuncturist are tremendously helpful, too.

Healthy amount of sleep

Since I am a parent of teenagers, I have to get up very early to get them off to high school. Each night, I attempt to go to bed at a reasonable time, say around 10:30-11 pm, and my oldest comes in and talks my ear off until after midnight. Believe me, I am grateful that he still likes to talk with me, but Mama needs her sleep!

Experts recommend that adults sleep between seven and nine hours a night. Adults who sleep less than seven hours a night may have more health issues than those who sleep seven or more hours a night.

From the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, “Below you can find the recommended hours of sleep, including naps, for different ages.

  • For newborns younger than four months, sleep patterns vary widely.
  • Babies 4 months to 1 year old should sleep 12 to 16 hours per day.
  • Children 1 to 2 years old should sleep 11 to 14 hours per day.
  • Children 3 to 5 years old should sleep 10 to 13 hours per day.
  • Children 6 to 12 years old should sleep 9 to 12 hours per day.
  • Teens 13 to 18 years old should sleep 8 to 10 hours per day,”.

 Can back pain be psychological?

In conclusion, chronic back pain can indeed have psychological effects, impacting sleep, daily functioning, and overall well-being. Seeking support from healthcare professionals, engaging in rehabilitation, and addressing psychological factors can help manage pain and improve quality of life. Prioritizing sleep is also crucial for optimal health.

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