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Science says back pain can be caused by depression

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

People with depression are 60% more likely to develop low back pain in their lifetime, according to Australian research.

This is the first study to show that depression itself may actually trigger back pain rather than the injury being the cause.

The research, published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research, analysed data from 11 studies covering a total of 23,109 people.

It found people with symptoms of depression had a much higher risk of developing low back pain in the future compared with those showing no depression.

The risk of low back pain also increased in patients with more severe levels of depression.

Paulo Ferreira from the University of Sydney says the research suggests that up to 61,200 cases of low back pain in Australia are partially attributed to depression.

“Low back pain is a debilitating condition, particularly when coupled with other health conditions, so I hope this discovery will lead to better treatment in the future,” says Dr Ferreira.

“When patients come to us with both back pain and depression their cases are much more complex. They don’t respond to treatment in the same way as patients who only experience back pain — they take much longer to recover and treatment can be expensive.”

The study suggests depression and back pain should be treated simultaneously.

Other studies estimate that up to 48% of those with back pain have symptoms of depression.

The latest research doesn’t explain why, but it could be because people with depression often have lower levels of physical activity and poor sleep or due to issues with neurotransmitters which impact both mood and pain thresholds.

The researchers are further into the impact of genetics. Research on twins suggests some people may be genetically predisposed to both back pain and depression.

Low back pain is estimated to affect 4 million Australians and is most common in people aged 40 to 50.

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