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The Season of Stressing & The Impact on Your Back Pain

Authored by Dr. Colin Haines, MD. December 21, 2021

It’s the holiday season! But that doesn’t necessarily mean all things goodwill and cheer. In fact, a survey from MetLife found that December is the most stressful time of year for 42% of workers, and it’s no surprise why. This all seems counterintuitive but of those asked, 67% said they found Christmas stressful. But what impact does this season stress have on our physical health, and more specifically your back. 

The stress of shortened deadlines, the pressure we put on ourselves with the holidays, balancing work commitments and family time are all listed pressures that make these workers the most stressed compared to other times of the year. With the non-stop “go,” the constant demands on our time seem endless. Along with that stress can often come uncomfortable back and neck pain, as we carry so much of our stress in our shoulders and back. Not to mention the amount of time spent craning our necks in uncomfortable positions to look at electronic devices while working, holiday shopping, and scrolling social media. 

Top 3 Impacts of Stress on Your Physical Health and Spine:

  • Stress-Related Weight Gain

One of the #1 reasons your back hurts? Excess weight puts pressure on the spine. Did you know that every 5 pounds gained is an extra 20 pounds of pressure on the spine? If you’re heading into the holidays with stress on your mind, which can lead to unmindful eating habits, you could be facing additional pain on your joints and, most importantly, your spine. Once your spine surgeon diagnoses your back pain and encourages weight loss as a form of treatment, most people are in so much pain that they are unable to exercise to lose any more weight. Time is definitely of the essence in this situation, and it’s a frightening position to be in. 

  • Emotional Stress Can Turn Into Physical Pain

That’s right – even though your stress is in your head, that can turn into a world of pain on your body if left unchecked. A healthy body can help support a healthy mind. Once your body goes into defense mode as a result of stress, you can start to overcompensate or put unwanted pressure on your back, neck and shoulders – this causes a lot of pressure on your spine, and can turn into a real, physical problem. 

  • Stress Can Create Unhealthy Sleeping Habits 

When you’re having trouble sleeping due to stress, your body starts to suffer as well. Your body and spine need rest in order to recover each day, and if you are not getting enough sleep (think 7-8 hours each night), other parts of your body start to suffer – not just your mind. The more sleep we lose, the easier it is to fall into bad posture, start making bad decisions with our diets or lifestyle choices, and the more times you may fall asleep in an uncomfortable position on the couch. 

The physical risks of NOT addressing the pain caused by your stress can create tremendous and chronic harm on your body. Many patients think that their pain will simply go away with time, but if the cause of that pain is not being addressed, then the chances of it clearing up on its own are slim. Something that starts as acute pain in the low back but lasts for more than 6 months is considered chronic pain, and becomes a much bigger problem. An important note to remember is that back pain and, more importantly, a spinal diagnosis does not equal spine surgery. 

Fortunately, with the advancements in treatments and technology, 90% of patients get completely pain free without needing spine surgery. Regardless of where you are with managing stress-related back pain, it important to get your back looked at by a Spine Specialist as quickly as possible. My go-to advice is, “if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be.” 

Obtaining a consultation early on can prevent your condition from worsening.

It’s no secret that your mental health can directly affect how your body feels, and though your pain may be brought on by feelings of depression, that doesn’t mean your symptoms are imaginary. If the tolls of the holidays are too much for your back and neck pain, don’t delay seeking medical care from a spine surgeon. Whether or not surgical intervention is needed, it’s critical to get to the bottom of your pain symptoms and get on the path to treatment as soon as possible. 

Our spine specialists are here for you. Contact our New Patient Care Team for same-day and week-of appointments: 703.709.1114 

Dr. Colin Haines is a board certified spine surgeon and the Director of Research at Virginia Spine Institute. Dr. Haines performed the world’s first combined endoscopic and robot-guided spine surgery. His patient success has earned him a national feature on The Today Show and WebMD, and Top Doctor recognition in consecutive years.. Learn more about Dr. Haines.

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Dr. Colin Haines, MD

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