A new study released by the University of Sydney suggests that people who suffer from depression have a 60 percent greater chance of developing lower back pain in their lifetime, according to ZME Science. The reason for this correlation is unclear, though some theories exist.

What is depression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is a recognized mental illness that is caused by a variety of genetic, physical, and environmental factors. Clinical depression goes beyond just feelings of sadness because of life circumstances, such as the death of a loved one or a job loss. Depression interferes with your ability to enjoy life and is often accompanied by eating and sleeping disorders. If plagued by depression, you will lack energy and the ability to concentrate on mundane tasks.

There are many reasons as to why people can get depressed including medications, genetics and major life events. As the Washington Post recently reported, depression and loneliness are often linked, feeding off of each other. Lonely people are more prone to disease, with feelings of social isolation literally changing the human genome at the molecular level.

Fortunately, depression is a treatable condition, often with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

What is the relationship between depression and lower back pain?

The Australian study concluded that up to 61,200 cases of lower back pain in Australia could be attributed, at least in part, to depression. Moreover, not only were people with depression more likely to have back pain but the more severe the depression, the more severe the back pain.

Is there a treatment for depression and lower back pain?

The study also suggested that a combination of depression and lower back pain was a far more difficult malady to treat than back pain alone. Treatment of depression and lower back pain simultaneously seems to have the best results. People with depression take longer to respond to treatment for lower back pain than people without depression and should be treated with health professionals in each field working closely together.

Does correlation of depression and lower back pain equal causation?

The fact that there seems to be a correlation between depression and lower back pain remains something of a mystery among medical researchers. One reason is that the two conditions have different causes.

According to the Spine-Health site, the causes of lower back pain might stem from a number of conditions that arise from the complex system of nerves, muscles, disks, tendons, and bones that constitute the lumbar spine. Causes include:

  • The large nerve roots in the lower back that go to the legs may be irritated.
  • The smaller nerves that supply the lower back may be irritated.
  • The large paired lower back muscles (erector spinae) may be strained.
  • The bones, ligaments, or joints may be damaged.
  • An intervertebral disc may be degenerating.

Because the causes of clinical depression and lower back pain are so different, researchers wonder if the correlation between the two is entirely a coincidence. However, one theory has emerged that would tend to point to a link between the two conditions.

Depression features a much lower degree of physical activity as well as sleep disorders. Increased physical exercise and restful sleep can do wonders for helping to alleviate lower back pain. Also, the same disruptions to the neural transmitters that affect mood can also lower the pain threshold.

The theory points to a way to treat both depression and lower back pain at the same time. The endorphins that are created by physical exercise can alleviate the dark mood brought on by bouts of depression. An exercise regimen, along with medication and psychotherapy, would seem to be a potentially effective way to treat both depression and lower back pain.

In the meantime, researchers are delving into possible genetic links between depression and the propensity to suffer from lower back pain using identical twins as test subjects. If and when such links are uncovered, more effective treatments that can address both conditions could be developed.

Based on what we currently know, if you or a loved ones has both depression and low back pain, it is best to get treated for both at the same time.


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