## Study Shows Conflicting Beliefs Can Cause Physical Pain
A recent study conducted by researchers from The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan has found that conflicting beliefs can cause physical pain in the neck and back. The study had volunteers lift lightweight boxes while being told they were doing an unsatisfactory job, resulting in psychological distress that added extra pressure on participants’ necks and low backs.
### Implications for Workplace Safety
While the study was small, it could have implications for workplace safety. The findings suggest that psychosocial stressors, specifically cognitive dissonance, may harm physical health. This should be taken into account when designing workplace safety protocols.
### Pain is a Complex Mix of Factors
Pain is a complex mix of physical, social, and psychological stressors. Even the words a doctor uses to describe low back pain can shape someone’s expectations of recovery. Researchers have come to appreciate that pain involves a complex interplay between body and mind.
### Cognitive Dissonance and Back Pain
Most research to date has focused on the coexistence of chronic pain with depression, anxiety, and a tendency to catastrophize. Marras and colleagues wanted to understand if another psychological factor, cognitive dissonance, also impacts back and spine pain.
### The Mind-Body Connection
The study aimed to get at the mind-body connection and understand how psychological discomfort manifests physically. In the lab-based study, 17 volunteers were tasked with moving a lightweight box into precise positions while wearing motion sensors to measure how much load they were putting on their spines and backs.
### Increased Spine Loading
The researchers found that peak spinal loads increased by between 10 and 20 percent when people felt distressed by negative feedback compared to when they were feeling capable at the start of the task. Loads on the lower back also increased, but only slightly.
### The Growing Toll of Low Back Pain
Low back pain is the leading cause of years lived with disability worldwide. Nearly 620 million people globally had low back pain in 2020, impacting their ability to work, move, travel, or care for themselves or others. That figure is expected to rise to over 800 million people by 2050.
### Holistic Models of Care
Pain research is moving at a clip to figure out how chronic pain starts, understand why it persists, and find effective ways to alleviate it. Understanding the psychosocial dimensions of pain appears to be helping greatly, with studies finding that adding psychological therapy to physical treatments might be key to overcoming chronic back pain. Trials of more holistic models of care including group therapy have reduced opioid use without worsening pain.
The study was published in Ergonomics. Only by understanding what adds to people’s pain can we hope to relieve it.