Study of over 200k patients reveals severe back pain may be linked to mental health problems
01/15/2017 // Daniel Barker // Views

A recent study involving nearly 200,000 people has shown that back pain – the world’s number one cause of disability – can lead to a variety of mental health issues.

Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University examined data from people living in 43 countries, and found that those who suffer from back pain are three times more likely to experience depression and twice as prone to developing psychosis. (RELATED: Read more news about medical studies at

Back pain can also have other effects on mental health. Co-author of the study, Dr. Brendon Stubbs, said, “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.

“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.”

In some countries, more than half the population suffer from back pain

The researchers reported that the data from each of the 43 countries involved in the study were similar in terms of the effects of back pain on individuals, but noted that the incidence of back pain varied significantly from nation to nation.

From Medical News Today:

“Of the countries investigated, China's levels of back pain were lowest, at 13.7 percent.

“In some countries, more than half of respondents reported back pain; Nepal was highest with 57.1 percent. Similarly, 53.1 percent of Bangladeshis reported back pain, as well as 52 percent of people from Brazil.”


Research on back pain and its effects on mental health has been conducted in the past – one previous study found that one in five lower back pain patients also suffered from depression – but this latest study has special significance due to the large sample size and the fact that it focused on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Nineteen of the 43 nations involved in the study were low-income, while 24 were middle-income. The study is the largest of its kind to date, making it a reliable measurement of not only the effects of back pain on the global population, but particularly regarding people who live in LMICs.

Back pain also has other effects on general health. A 2015 U.S. study showed links between back pain and obesity, alcohol abuse and nicotine dependence.

Lower back pain linked to increased likelihood of illicit drug abuse

Another recent study showed that chronic lower back pain sufferers were more likely to engage in illicit drug use.

The study, published in the journal Spine, involved more than 5,000 American adults who took part in a national health study. Nearly half of those who suffered from lower back pain had used illicit drugs compared to only 43 percent among those with no back pain.

All four of the drugs listed in the survey – marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin – were used more by lower back pain sufferers.

From Pain News Network:

“Rates of lifetime use were 46.5% versus 42% for marijuana; 22% vs. 14% for cocaine; 9% vs. 5% for methamphetamine; and 5% vs. 2% for heroin.”

It’s important to note that the study made no distinction between recreational and medical marijuana use.

The researchers noted that there was no evidence that drug use causes back pain, but that the link should be taken into account, especially in terms of prescribing opioid pain medications for chronic back pain.

A recent analysis of pharmacy sales records found that 25 percent of prescriptions for opioid painkillers are written for back pain, despite the fact that their use for treating chronic back pain is not recommended. In general, the risk of addiction is considered to be greater than the benefits of using opioids to treat long-term back pain.

The link between back pain and mental illness certainly deserves more investigation, and these latest studies should help in establishing the basis for further research into the subject.


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