Other possible contributing factors to your chronic back pain

The pain is not in your head

Many people feel like their doctor is saying that they are making up their pain. Your pain is not imaginary. You are not doing this to yourself voluntarily. But after the spinal cord receives the signals from the muscles, it does send signals to your brain. Your best asset to deal with chronic pain is still your brain.

What initially started as a harmless signal in the muscles, your spinal cord has amplified into a loud alarm that your brain now has to figure out the meaning of. This is where your thoughts and emotions can play an important role in managing your pain. Even if your spinal cord has amplified a minor achy pain into unbearable pain, it is up to your brain to override these signals.

Factors that influence your pain

Research indicates that some conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, and depression all activate similar parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain are linked through different biological and electrical circuits.

Studies also indicate that untreated depression can increase medical symptoms, decrease a person’s pain threshold, and increase the intensity of pain. Musculoskeletal pain, depression, and anxiety are so strongly linked that health care providers should be on the lookout for all three.

Many people believe that if doctors can get rid of the physical pain, then depression and/or anxiety will also go away; however, there has been no clinical or research evidence that treating only a person’s pain gets rid of depression and/or anxiety.

Spine research also indicates that some people who have a history of depression, stressful life events, anxiety, considerable fears, or catastrophic thinking or misunderstandings of their pain may have increased sensitivities, and often the concept of mental defeat, or when people feel that their pain has taken away all of their self-reliance and identity, is what finally drives them to see a doctor.

We know that depression and anxiety can be treated successfully with medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. All of these conditions, if left untreated, may lead to overstimulation of the spinal cord and brain starting the central amplification process. 

Last reviewed: 
April 2018

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