How To Navigate The Emotional Challenges Of Chronic Spine Pain: Guidance From Dr. Brandon Claflin

Chronic spine pain is prevalent and increasing  in the adult population. According to the World Health Organization, around 619 million people worldwide live with lower back pain due to a structural problem in the spine. By 2050, estimations expect this number to increase to 843 million due to aging and population expansion.

Anyone can develop chronic spine pain, and several factors may cause it. Chronic spine pain makes day-to-day activities more challenging and can affect one’s emotional and mental health. Besides ways to reduce physical pain, navigating the emotional challenges of chronic spine pain is a must for your overall well-being and may help improve physical pain. If you suffer from chronic spine pain, here is some expert advice to help you cope.

What Causes Chronic Spine Pain?

According to Dr. Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma, pain can be disabling and decrease people’s function and quality of life. Millions of adults experience chronic spine pain due to injuries sustained at work. Some people get their spine damaged due to improper lifting techniques while carrying heavy loads. For others, their spine injury worsens slowly over time due to poor posture while sitting in front of their workstations, a degenerative disease, or injury. Moreover, common spine conditions such as a herniated disc can become more painful if a person sits down since a seated position puts pressure on the discs. 

Direct trauma to the spine caused by a fall, a vehicular accident, or a sporting injury may also cause chronic spine pain in individuals. In most spinal injury cases, some form of physical therapy can promote nerve cell regeneration and improve range of movement. For nearly all cases, pain management medication is necessary and required.

Focusing on reducing physical pain is crucial for anyone who has to deal with chronic spine pain. However, since people with chronic pain are more at risk of developing mental health conditions, it is equally important to find ways to deal with this health condition’s psychological and emotional effects. More importantly, it is essential to understand the emotional effects and methods to prevent them beforehand.

Chronic Spine Pain and its Connection to Anxiety and Depression

Studies show that chronic pain and mental health problems typically occur together. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 35% to 45% of people with chronic pain experience depression. Moreover, anxiety and other mood disorders commonly co-occur with chronic pain from spine and back problems. 

Apart from mental health conditions, chronic spine pain may also cause sleeplessness, irritability, and diminished focus and productivity. It can even lead to stress, worsening the problem since stress and a lack of proper sleep can exacerbate chronic spine pain. As such, it can potentially impact one’s relationships and career. Medications such as antidepressants can help to counter the negative emotions brought about by chronic spine pain. However, therapy can also be beneficial if the thought of living with chronic pain weighs on you. 

Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Chronic Spine Pain

Treatments that significantly decrease chronic pain paired with therapy sessions can help you cope with your health condition. For instance, spinal injections, one of the most popular and effective treatments for chronic spinal pain, can provide short-term pain relief, says Dr. Claflin. However, repeated spinal injections are necessary to produce the same pain management. Meanwhile, adding psychotherapy to your treatment plan, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), allows you to learn holistic ways to manage pain and have a more positive outlook, despite your pain. 

CBT helps you to shift your thinking to cope with chronic pain better. For instance, if a particularly painful flare-up makes you think that you cannot survive it or that your entire existence revolves around pain, a cognitive behavioral therapist will help you develop coping skills to shift your thinking. CBT may not eliminate chronic spine pain, but changing your thoughts and how you respond to your pain may help decrease it over time. In addition, having a support network can assist during these trying and painful events. 

Mindfulness-Based Therapy to Alleviate Chronic Pain

Some people who are staunch advocates of traditional medicine may balk at the idea of trying mindfulness-based therapy to reduce pain. However, evidence shows that mindful activities, such as yoga and meditation, can help manage pain. Meditation can trigger the release of endorphins in the body, which can relieve pain, and a study shows that it can reduce pain by separating it from the self. Meanwhile, yoga, particularly Hatha and Iyengar yoga, can reduce inflammation and improve flexibility in people suffering from chronic spine pain. Hatha yoga can increase the range of motion and strength over time, while Iyengar yoga can help to reduce lower back pain by keeping your spine aligned.  

As a bonus, mindful activities can also help you deal with the emotional challenges of your health condition. Both meditation and yoga can fight stress, and they have a positive impact on anxiety and depression. You can meditate daily to manage chronic spinal pain, and consider practicing yoga at least three times a week with an instructor trained in therapeutic yoga for the best results. 

Forest or Nature Therapy for Chronic Pain Relief

Being in nature can have a soothing and calming effect on frazzled minds, and this is the reason why prescribing forest or nature therapy to people dealing with depression or anxiety. This type of therapy is proven to promote relaxation, ease stress, and keep anxious thoughts at bay. Moreover, additional benefits include those who are living with chronic pain. Being in green spaces can help to shift the focus away from the pain, while exposure to sunlight improves the body’s production of Vitamin D, which can help to reduce inflammation. 

Perform forest or nature therapy as often as needed, so it is worth a try if you are experiencing emotional turmoil due to chronic spinal pain. Consider going to a forested area and walking along its edge or going on a short hike to experience the pain-relieving benefits of nature therapy. You can also walk in a public park with lots of greenery or visit a nearby botanical garden.

Dealing with chronic spine pain and its emotional challenges can be difficult. Still, with proper treatment, therapy, and determination, you can reduce pain and enjoy everything life offers.