How Chronic Back Pain Can Impact Mental Health


Medical research shows that chronic back pain leads to new or worsened mental health disorders. What’s more, mental health disorders make chronic pain worse. If you have chronic back pain and suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, or uncontrollable emotions, you might be caught in a vicious cycle.

What Causes Chronic Back Pain?

Back pain is called chronic when it lasts more than three months. It may come and go, or it might be constant. It’s not as common as acute back pain, which comes on suddenly and lasts less than six weeks.

Some common causes of chronic back pain are:

  • Bulging or herniated discs. Spinal discs are soft cushions between the vertebrae. You can have damaged spinal discs without back pain, but a lot of times the discs pinch a nerve. That causes back pain. 
  • Spinal Stenosis. Spinal stenosis can shrink the space inside the vertebrae. The bones squeeze the spinal cord, causing pain in the back.
  • Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when flexible tissue at the ends of bone wears down. Any joint is susceptible however it is a common occurrence in the back, hips, and knees.
  • Disc Degeneration. Disc degeneration occurs when the shock-absorbing discs located between the vertebrae in your spine begin to breakdown. This can result in a number of complications.

How Chronic Back Pain Affects Emotions

It’s hard to stay in a good mood when you’re suffering from pain. When you suffer for a long time, you can become filled with worry and self-doubt. Chronic back pain disrupts your life in many ways, such as:

  • Limiting your movement
  • Disrupting your sleep – 89 percent of people with chronic pain have sleep disturbances
  • Affecting your job attendance and performance
  • Preventing you from doing things you enjoy

This causes emotional pain; taking a toll on your emotional and mental health. What’s worse, emotional pain can make chronic back pain more severe.

Chronic Back Pain and Stress

When you suffer from chronic pain, you become mentally stressed. In turn, mental stress makes your muscles tighten up. It only makes the pain worse. Even acute back pain (the kind that heals in a couple of months) causes emotional stress. But when you suffer for a long time, your brain switches from pain processing to emotion processing. It’s like your brain acts like a switchboard. Your brain needs a break from the ongoing pain. To cope, it “unplugs” from the pain processor and “plugs in” to the emotion processor. Clinical research shows this often leads to emotional disorders.

Chronic Pain, Depression, and Anxiety

Among people suffering from chronic pain, 8 percent suffer from severe depression when the pain lasts less than six months. It increases to 46 percent when chronic pain lasts longer than six months.

“The prevalence of major depression in patients with chronic low back pain (CLBP) is approximately three to four times greater than that reported in the general population.”


–M.J. Sullivan, et al –The Treatment of Depression in Chronic Low Back Pain: Review and Recommendations.

Mental health studies show that when chronic pain leads to depression, it often causes suicidal thoughts.

Get Help for Chronic Back Pain And Mental Health

Back pain is linked to your overall health, including mental health.  When you’re suffering from chronic pain, watch for warnings of mental health problems.


  • Worrying when there’s nothing wrong
  • Things seem more threatening than they are
  • Feeling anxious all day long


  • Sadness, feelings of emptiness
  • Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Suicidal thoughts


  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Feeling frustrated
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Catching colds easily

If you feel that chronic back pain is taking a toll on your mental health, get help from a psychiatrist right away.

As you can see, eliminating chronic back pain is essential to mental health. See how Oasis Orthopedic and Spine can help you rediscover life without pain. Start with our free Pain Assessment Tool below.