Back Pain Raises Risk of Mental Health Problems

By Pat Anson, Editor

Back pain is the world’s leading cause of disability, but a new international study has documented the toll it also takes on mental health.

British researchers analyzed data for nearly 200,000 people in 43 countries and found that back pain sufferers were three times more likely to be depressed and over twice as likely to experience psychosis.

“Our data shows that both back pain and chronic back pain are associated with an increased likelihood of depression, psychosis, anxiety, stress and sleep disturbances,” said Dr. Brendon Stubbs of Anglia Ruskin University.

“This suggests that back pain has important mental health implications which may make recovery from back pain more challenging. The exact reasons for this are yet to be established.”

Stubbs and his colleagues say their findings, published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry,  were broadly similar across all 43 countries. The research team studied data from the World Health Survey from 2002 to 2004.

About 80 percent of adults worldwide experience back pain at some point in their lives. A previous study also found that about one in five low back pain patients suffer from depression.

“Further research is required to find out more about the links between these problems, and to ensure effective treatments can be developed. It is also important that healthcare professionals are made aware of this link to refer patients to other services if necessary,” said Stubbs.

Although the association between back pain and mental health problems was similar around the world, the incidence of back pain itself varied widely – from 13.7% in China’s population to 57% in Nepal and 53% in Bangladesh.

A large 2015 study in the United States linked back pain to a wide variety of other health issues, including obesity, nicotine dependence and alcohol abuse.

People with chronic lower back pain are more likely to use illicit drugs -- including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine -- according to a recent study published in the journal Spine.