In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

The Psychosocial Factors that Impact Chronic Low Back Pain

chronic low back pain

Millions of people suffer from chronic low back pain. It’s a common condition that can have a negative impact on one’s quality of life, as it keeps them from participating in activities they may have once loved. But how much of what they are experiencing is being made worse by their thoughts about the low back pain? That is what researchers set out to answer.

Reporting the results of their findings in the April 2022 issue of the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy, researchers conducted a cross-sectional study that included 125 people with severe low back pain [1]. Using self-reported questionnaires, participants provided information regarding psychosocial factors, functional limitations, and pain characteristics.

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The surveys show that what people think about the pain they experience significantly influences their overall experience. They found four main factors that impacted chronic low back pain. These include catastrophizing, maladaptive beliefs about rest, kinesiophobia, and social isolation. Each of these areas was associated with unfavorable outcomes for experiencing low back pain.

Those who catastrophize, or were more exaggerated and pessimistic, were more likely to have severe pain and functional limitations compared to those who didn’t catastrophize. Those who had maladaptive beliefs, kinesiophobia, and social isolation were more likely to experience severe low back pain and functional limitation.

This is not the first study that we have seen that shows how our thoughts can have an impact on the chronic pain that we experience. Those who are filled with anxiety, overthinking, pessimism, and exaggeration may be making their condition worse. It’s essential to focus on changing negative thoughts, which can be an important part of chronic pain management.

To change the negative thinking that may be contributing to experiencing more low back pain, focus on becoming more of a positive thinker. There are numerous ways to do this, including practicing mindfulness, meditation, and gratitude. Try learning to recognize the negativity regarding the low back pain so that it can be identified and changed with something more positive and helpful when the thoughts arise. Creating positive affirmations can help with transforming into a more positive mindset.

As additional studies are published, we are learning more about how important our thoughts can be and their power to influence our quality of life. Simply focusing on changing the way we think about low back pain can have an impact how the severity of pain that we feel, as well as how much it may limit us.

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  1. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. Which psychosocial factors are related to severe pain and functional limitation in patients with low back pain? April 2022.

This article was originally published on Confronting Chronic Pain by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director Pain Medicine Master and Certificate.

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