Insomnia and Back Pain

backIf you suffer from insomnia, you are nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to experience back pain, according to a study published recently in the journal PLOS One by researchers at the University of Haifa.

It is already known that people with a chronic inability to get a good night’s sleep have increased sensitivity to pain and greater odds of suffering from spontaneous pain more often and with more intensity compared with those who sleep well.

This study, carried out on 2,131 subjects in Tel Aviv, is the first to show a direct connection between insomnia and back pain.

“We examined healthy, employed adults over three periods of time. After controlling for a range of variables, including socioeconomic status and lifestyle issues, we came to the conclusion that insomnia is a marker for the increased risk of back pain, though the reverse is not the case,” reported Maayan Agmon of the university’s department of nursing and Galit Armon of its department of psychology.

Working in cooperation with physicians Shlomo Berliner and Itzhak Shapira of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Agmon and Armon chose study subjects from a population of working adults, average age 46, who came to the medical center at three different junctures for routine checkups between January 2003 and December 2011.

Stress may be the common link

Study participants who reported suffering from insomnia — defined as difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, prolonged awakening during the night, or waking up too early for more than a one-month period — were found to be 150 percent more likely to suffer as well from consistent back pain than were those who reported no trouble sleeping.

Among women, the correlation between insomnia and back pain was even more pronounced.

“It’s possible that the link between the two conditions stems from a third biological factor that we haven’t yet succeeded in identifying,” the researchers said.

“One possible link is stress; people suffering from insomnia generally describe their lives as stressful, so it’s almost certain that they would suffer from chronic restlessness that will increase muscle tension and reduce the number of micro-pauses in muscle activity, which leads to back pain.”

Back pain is a very common complaint, affecting an estimated 60% to 80% of adults at some point in their lives – often from no identifiable cause. Moreover, back pain is the single most costly condition in terms of total workers’ compensation costs.

About half of all back-pain sufferers also complain of insomnia, which is what prompted the Israeli researchers to look for a link between these two common medical phenomena.