The Stress / Back Pain Connection:
There is a strong connection between stress and back pain. Stress causes a release of stress hormones. Stress hormones increase the perception of pain.
Stress hormones also cause the muscles to tighten up. The muscles may tense up so much they go into painful spasms. Back and neck muscles are particularly sensitive to the effects of stress.
Muscle tension reduces blood flow to the tissues (reduced oxygen and nutrients to the tissues). Reduced blood flow delays healing. Adequate circulation is also necessary to flush acidic waste products (byproducts of muscular activity) from the tissues. A build up of acidic waste products in the tissues can cause fatigue and pain.
Stress in itself can cause back pain, even in people with healthy spines. A person with a 'bad back', e.g. a person who has scar tissue from an old injury or degenerative changes in the spine due to aging, may notice the effects of stress triggering back pain even more than someone with a healthy back. The slightest muscle tension may be 'the straw the broke the camel's back.' For instance, if spinal nerves are already restricted by scar tissue or calcium deposits it may take minimal muscle tension to compress nerves and cause pain. Sciatica may flare up when one is feeling stressed.
Tense back muscles increase back pain and pain increases tensing of muscles - a vicious cycle of stress and back pain can be created.
The back is less capable of tolerating even mild abuse (lifting something slightly heavy, poor posture, a sudden twist, sitting too long, etc) when a person is under stress. Stress causes the muscles to tighten up, leaving them vulnerable to injury.
Relieving stress can reduce pain that is aggravated or caused by tense muscles. Managing stress on an ongoing basis may also help prevent back pain from occurring in the first place.
Exercise: Stress can be relieved through exercise. Aerobic exercise is particularly effective form of exercise for relieving stress -aerobic exercise burns off stress hormones and increases the body's production of endorphins - naturally occurring chemicals that relieve pain and improve mood. Stretching exercises also can relieve stress and loosen tight muscles. Yoga incorporates poses that increase strength and flexibility with breathing techniques to relieve stress.
Relaxation techniques invoke the "relaxation response." Muscles relax and blood pressure, heartbeat, and respiration decrease. This is the opposite of the "stress response" where muscles tense and blood pressure, heartbeat, and respiration increase.
There are many relaxation techniques, from simple deep breathing exercises that are easy to learn on one's own to self-hypnosis that must initially be taught by a qualified professional. Other relaxation techniques include mediation, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback. Special equipment is needed to for biofeedback and it must be taught by a professional.