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3 Ways to Improve Depressive Symptoms from Low Back Pain


As I’ve written previously, low back pain is highly common in modernized societies. In fact, as I wrote about in 7 low back pain confusions, America spends ~300 billion dollars annually on low back pain. To alleviate the spending, I tried my best to write a thorough low back pain prevention guide. Now, I’ve received numerous emails thanking me for putting this together, but in all honesty with even the best prevention program, low back pain can occur.

At COR, we are moving into a new facility and I’ve been stressed out and busting my hump trying to get it open. During this hustling and bustling I MRI-of-low-back2strained my low back. I know, I’m a physical therapist, I should know better. But, when you’re unloading 2,500 square feet of flooring from a truck in 90 minutes, form tends to break down. Luckily, I’ve treated myself with the tips from COR Low Back Pain Solution, but man was I depressed when my low back pain was high. Now, depressive feelings during any injury are normal, which I frequently remind my mother who is recovering from a stress fracture and ankle sprain. Nonetheless, knowing depressive symptoms are common and improving depressive symptoms are a totally different thing.

Depressive Symptoms During Low Back Pain

A recent study found depressive symptoms and pain intensity were predictive of a 6 month recovery status. This may seem obvious, as if you have more pain and are more depressed you’re likely to recover more slowly. However, elevated fear-avoidance and fear of moving in what was believed to be a painful action were also common in patients who recovered slower. Unfortunately, this study did not analyze if meditative methods or other mental training can speed up recovery.¬†I’m here to tell you I see mental strategies and mentally strong individuals have greater results following an injury than depressed individuals. However, it is easy to slip down the depression trail when you can barely move! Luckily, there are ways to reduce depressive symptoms during low back pain.

3 Ways to Reduce Depressive Symptoms During Low Back Pain

  1. Increase Confidence with Movement:

    After a low back pain injury, many people will either quit moving completely or fight through the pain and try to ignore the issue. Now, the severity of the injury influences the ideal recovery strategy, but in most cases, gradually progressing movement in pain-free range of motion is necessary for improved confidence. If you in the camp afraid to move, start small and gradually increase your movements. For example, begin with a hip shift or simply walking. If you are the other patient, ignoring their pain, take a step back. Now, I don’t mean completely stop moving, but keep moving in a safe, non-painful movements. Easing into movement will reduce the chance of a flare up and worsening symptoms.

  2. Incantation:

    “The body achieves what the mind believes” is a popular sports quote, but also applies to rehabilitation. If you are depressed and feel you are not going to recover, it is unlikely you’ll improve. Therefore, having repeated positive sayings you chant can be a helpful method of reducing depressive symptoms during low back pain. An example incantation for low back pain is: “My back is strong, healthy, and feeling¬†better each day”. Simply repeat this saying (or create one yourself) over and over throughout the day for improvement. When my back was hurting, I would take a walk each day for 15 minutes, simply repeating this saying.Remember, the mind is a powerful tool!

  3. Visualization:

    Another mental trick for improving depressive symptoms is meditation. Now, I’m not an expert on meditation, but use it regularly, as a tool for Sachin Yogavisualizing physical difficulties. In swimming, I visualized my goal times. In weightlifting, I visualized myself lifting heavy weight. For low back pain, visualize yourself living without back pain. Simply lie or sit cross legged and breathe deeply, concentrating on your breath for 1 – 3 minutes. Next, visualize yourself performing everyday tasks without pain for 2 – 3 minutes. That’s it! Sounds easy right…well give it a try and see if you can stick to it for a week!


Once again, it is common to become depressed following an injury. Luckily, there are tools for escaping this depression and improving your symptoms. Try these three tips for improving your depression from low back pain and start your way to a healthier, pain free life!

Written by Dr. John Mullen, Physical Therapist