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Recessions and Back Pain: The Scary Link You Need To Know

Learn about the risks of low back pain during a recession and how to protect yourself.

These days it seems like you can't turn on the news without hearing so-called experts talking about a "recession".

Are we going to have one? Will we avoid it?

A recession is technically defined as 'a period of economic decline, characterized by falling GDP, rising unemployment, and declining consumer spending'.

Right now experts are talking about a "soft landing" and the chances look like we might avoid a full-blown recession, but jobs still aren't as secure as they used to be.

If you are worried about job security, with or without a recession, and you are struggling to make your money stretch in the current economy, then this article is for you. We take a look at what happens during times of economic recession, and how it can affect your health, and your low back pain.

Some common ways economic recessions can cause low back pain include:

  1. Emotional Stress/Anxiety

  2. Unhealthy Lifestyle Changes

  3. Financial Hardship

Picture of Google headquarters after announcing layoffs.

Which Companies Are Laying Off People?

According to a report by Tech Crunch, 'in 2023, layoffs have yet again cost tens of thousands of tech workers their jobs'. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Zoom have all laid off workers this year.

And it's not just tech jobs - companies like Open Door, Bed Bath & Beyond, and David's Bridal have all announced layoffs, or even bankruptcy.

Interestingly enough, recessions not only impact our livelihoods and bank accounts, but they can also have a significant effect on our health, including increasing our risk of low back pain.

A picture of a person packing up their stuff after being laid off.

Ways That Recessions Can Affect Low Back Pain

There are a number of reasons why a recession could lead to an increase in low back pain. These include a variety of things, ranging from a loss of health insurance to increased stress levels.

A lady being stressed after losing her job.

1. Emotional Stress/Anxiety

First, recessions often lead to job losses. When people lose their jobs, they often experience stress, anxiety, and depression. These emotional stressors can contribute to low back pain.

Stress is a common reaction to life experiences. Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Anything from everyday responsibilities like work and family to serious life events such as a new medical diagnosis, war, or the death of a loved one can trigger stress.

Prolonged stress can negatively impact your health.

Stress can be positive and it can help with things like avoiding danger or meeting a crucial deadline. But when you have too much to handle, and the stress seems to be never ending, stress becomes negative and it can affect your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.

Stress can cause a number of physical problems, including musculo-skeletal conditions like low back pain. When you're stressed, your muscles tense up. This can put extra strain on your back and can lead to pain. Stress can also weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness.

Layoffs impact everyone at the company - even those who didn't get laid off.

Recessions And Back Pain: Who Is Affected Most?

Interestingly enough, the research shows that you don't even have to be the one who loses their job for the stress of layoffs to have a negative effect on your mental health. According to Chron, 'the person who is laid off suffers the most distress, but remaining employees suffer emotionally as well'.

Research shows that unemployment is linked to anxiety, depression, and a loss of life satisfaction. Those who remain at the company, however, often feel survivor's guilt, or have to pick up extra work to cover for those who are now gone. This can also lead to increased stress levels.

Low cortisol can lead to increased pain sensations.

Stress Hormones And Low Back Pain

When we are going through a prolonged period of stress, our bodies release specific hormones called Cortisol and Adrenaline.

According to research from the National Institute Of Health 'a low cortisol awakening response was associated with leg pain intensity, pain catastrophizing, and low coping scores in 42 patients diagnosed with lumbar disk herniations'.

Basically, what that means is that cortisol makes our sense of pain worse and leads us to think of pain more.

Adrenaline is known as our "fight or flight" hormone that increases our blood pressure and causes the muscles in our body (like those surrounding our spines) to tense up in case we have to flee a dangerous situation. This causes our back muscles to be in a constant state of tension, leading to low back pain.

Woman smoking and making unhealthy choices because of being laid off.

2. Unhealthy Lifestyle Changes

Quite often, recessions can lead to changes in lifestyle. To cope with financial stress, people may be more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and eat unhealthy foods during a recession.

Sometimes "luxury" spending like on gym memberships, or healthy meal delivery subscriptions might be something people have to cut back on, or cut out completely.

"Healthy food" is still ridiculously expensive compared to processed foods that are low in nutritional value. Generally speaking, one pint of blueberries (between $2.50-5.00) will cost about the same as a store brand pizza ($5.00). When you have several mouths to feed it is no wonder why people turn to the processed food choice.

Research has shown that a diet that is high in inflammatory foods leads to an increase in inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been linked to chronic pain and auto-immune conditions, as well as to conditions like chronic low back pain.

Person struggling financially.

3. Financial Hardship

Another effects of a recession is financial hardship. When people are struggling financially, they may not be able to afford to see a doctor or physical therapist for their back pain. This can lead to the pain becoming more chronic.

People may have insurance that is tied to their employment. Indeed, many digital physical therapy options are offered through employer-based healthcare plans.

When people lose their jobs, this means they also lose their healthcare coverage, and and physical therapy benefits they may be receiving.

When people lose their jobs they often lose their health insurance, too, and incur medical debt.

The Cost Of Prevention

Add to all of this to the fact that people often don't know when they will get another job or see another paycheck and it is easy to see why people tend to put off healthcare visits unless they are absolutely essential.

Research shows that prevention is not only better for healthy outcomes, but it is also more cost effective. When people put off seeing their physical therapist or doctor it can lead to the condition being worse and then needing more care in the long term.

Putting off important musculoskeletal care can also lead to people having to visit the emergency room to get care for back pain flare ups. This is not recommended by international guidelines as emergency rooms are very limited in what they can do to treat back pain patients as a one-off visit.

Group of people exercising outside to help prevent back pain during a recession.

How To Protect Your Back During A Recession

If you are concerned about your risk of low back pain during a recession, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself. These include:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.

  • Manage stress. This includes finding healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, yoga, or meditation.

  • Seek professional help if you experience back pain. A doctor or physical therapist can help you develop a treatment plan to manage your pain. Many physical therapists and mental health counsellors will be willing to try and work out some sort of payment plan so you can continue your care.

  • Use tools like digital therapeutics. Digital health plans can offer care at more affordable prices so that you can continue with your mental health care or a digital PT program despite not having the same healthcare coverage.

By following these tips, you can help protect yourself from low back pain during a recession.

Woman managing her stress while job hunting.


A recession can have a significant impact on people's health, including an increased risk of low back pain. If you are concerned about your risk of low back pain during a recession, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

  • Managing stress

  • Seeking professional help if you experience back pain

If you are laid off from your job make sure that you prioritize your health and wellness and make sure to stay active, and manage your stress levels appropriately. This will help to keep you healthy and to stay positive as you search for your next opportunity.

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