Can Stress Affect My Spine?

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When discussing "health" the majority of us most often focus on the aspects of physical health. We often overlook the need for psychological health. However, we may encounter situations demonstrating that psychological health is just as important in an effort to maintain optimal physical function. A lack of balance between body and mind has the potential to lead to a physical decline or impairment.

Those of us that have experienced back pain have a tendency to not look beyond the exact area of pain. If our back hurts, we want to know what specifically is wrong with our back and how to fix it. While looking at the location of pain is a necessity, it is also helpful to look at what other factors are accompanying the pain. According to the North American Spine Society pain is often the result of complex interactions involving both physical and psychological factors.

A previous research study, conducted in New York, explored the presence of psychological distress affecting surgical outcomes in patients undergoing lumbar spine surgery. This study concluded that preoperative screening for psychological distress is likely to identify patients at risk for a poor surgical outcome. Physicians often utilize various tools for patients to self-report specific information including current condition, medical and psychological history. One large Danish study, while utilizing such a tool, was able to identify lumbar fusion patients with significant amounts of psychological stress, and concluded that the presence of the stress placed these patients at an increased risk for a poor outcome. While a more recent study, an analysis of a cohort of the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial, demonstrated that patients with spondylolisthesis and psychological distress had poor surgical outcomes.

Each of us has our own specific stress threshold in which we can handle daily stressors. Family, friends, work, and of course health problems are among the stressors that we encounter on a regular basis. We each have our own unique methods of dealing with our specific stressor. These methods may include exercise, a hobby, meditation, or yoga -to name a few. These are not a substitution for additional medical support. Do not be afraid to talk to your physician about any psychological distress you may be experiencing. Working with your care team may improve your outcomes.


Back Pain and Emotional Distress. (2009). Retrieved 2011, from North American Spine Society:

Trief, P., Grant, W., & Fredrickson, B. (2000). A Prospective Study of Psychological Predictors of Lumbar Surgery Outcome. Spine, 25 (20), 2616-2621.

Andersen, T., Christensen, F., & Bunger, C. (2006). Evaluation of a Dallas Pain Questionnaire classification in relation to outcome in lumbar spinal fusion. European Spine Journal, 15, 1671-1685.

Blisard, R. (2011, October). SPORT study shows poor results in patients with spondylolisthesis, psychological disorders. Orthopedics Today, p. 46

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