When you’re in pain, it can impact every area of your life. In addition to the pain itself and being unable to participate in certain activities, severe pain for long periods of time can have an impact on the rest of the body and lead to other health issues.
This is especially true when the pain begins in the spine, which can impact the nervous system and eventually cause problems throughout the entire body. One common example is high blood pressure, which can be worsened by pain. In order to prevent these cardiovascular problems from developing, it is important to seek back pain treatment as soon as you notice it.
About High Blood Pressure
The term blood pressure refers to the pressure of your blood against your arteries. The more blood that is pumped and the more narrow your arteries, the higher your blood pressure can become. If these levels remain elevated for a long period of time, the force of your blood against the artery walls is high enough to eventually cause health problems like heart disease. In order to determine your blood pressure, there are two separate measurements:
- Systolic pressure, the number that appears on top, measures the pressure in your arteries during the time when the heart beats.
- The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries between beats.
The majority of people who have high blood pressure will not have signs or symptoms, even when it is at dangerous levels. Those who do have symptoms may experience headaches, shortness of breath, or nosebleeds, but this would usually require a life-threatening level to be reached. In the rest of the population, it is either identified during a routine check-up in which your blood pressure is checked or when other more symptomatic conditions arise.
Pain and High Blood Pressure
Pain anywhere in the body, including the back, can increase blood pressure acutely. When the nervous system detects pain, it activates a mechanism known as the baroreceptor reflex, which controls blood pressure. The reflex tells the body to constrict its blood flow, leading to increased blood pressure until the pain is no longer detected. At this time, the reduced sensitivity to the pain tells the baroreceptor reflex to relax the blood vessels and return the blood pressure to lower levels. The blood pressure usually does not remain raised once the pain has passed. However, hypertension and chronic high blood pressure have been linked to a reduced perception of pain.
This reaction can differ depending on whether the pain is acute or chronic. Acute pain, which comes on quickly and out of nowhere, has an inverse relationship with both resting blood pressure and pain sensitivity. Whether it is a result of disease, injury, or inflammation, acute pain usually has an endpoint, at which time blood pressure returns to normal quickly.
On the other hand, chronic pain can last weeks, months, or years, often with little break between episodes. Sprains, herniated discs, infections, and ongoing medical conditions are common causes of chronic pain, though it can also occur for no known reason. When someone suffers from chronic pain, the nervous system is constantly working to try to fix the issue. Over time, the nervous system loses its ability to regulate blood pressure, which can cause it to become permanently high (or low, in some cases). It has been shown that those with persistent lower back pain lasting more than two years have higher resting blood pressure levels than those without pain.
Other Causes of High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure can be high for a large range of reasons, whether pain is present or not. Other common factors and conditions that can raise blood pressure include:
- Age: As we age, our risk for hypertension increases, even in the absence of other risk factors.
- Family history: High blood pressure can run in the family and be passed down genetically. If your family has had high blood pressure, you are more likely to suffer from the same.
- Comorbidities: Having many conditions can cause high blood pressure. These include unmanaged diabetes, heart disease, thyroid, kidney, and autoimmune conditions.
- Clogged arteries: If the blood vessels become damaged, they may change their structure and cause blood pressure to increase.
- Diet: Eating large amounts of sugar and sodium can increase blood pressure over time.
- Lifestyle factors: Low physical activity, smoking, moderate to high alcohol intake, and a lack of sleep are associated with hypertension.
- Mental health: Stress, anxiety, loneliness, and anger have all been shown to be linked to high blood pressure.
- Self-esteem: Negative self-talk and low self-esteem are harmful to blood pressure over time.
- Hydration: Not drinking enough water can increase blood pressure.
- Holding the bladder: Avoiding urination for a long enough period of time can increase blood pressure.
- Medications: Certain medications have side effects that include high blood pressure. This can include NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and aspirin), decongestants, hormonal birth control, and antidepressants.
Managing High Blood Pressure
In cases where blood pressure is raised as a result of back pain, managing and addressing the back pain is one of the primary mechanisms for managing the condition. There are also various methods that can address both hypertension and pain simultaneously.
Certain lifestyle changes may be recommended as the first form of management for pain and high blood pressure, such as:
- Dietary changes: A diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils is best for managing high blood pressure and keeping the body healthy. It is best to reduce sodium, sugar, and saturated or trans fats, which are found in most processed and fried foods.
- Alcohol: Even one or two drinks per day can increase blood pressure. It is best to avoid alcohol altogether, but you can speak with your doctor about what amount of alcohol you can consume safely.
- Daily exercise and physical activity: Regular daily exercise or physical activity can lower and control high blood pressure and also be a great way to treat or prevent back pain. If you are suffering from back issues or conditions that cause pain, you can work with your doctor or physical therapist to determine what exercises are best for you.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity can be associated with hypertension, and losing even 3-5% of body weight can decrease blood pressure and help it to regulate.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking constricts the blood vessels and increases blood pressure. It is best to stop completely when possible or to at least limit smoking as much as possible.
- Avoid stress: Use meditation, exercise, therapy, and other forms of self-care to manage mental and physical stress that could raise blood pressure. These ways to help your body recover from stress can help.
- Get enough sleep: The recommendation for adults is to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. You can improve your sleep habits by having an established, calming bedtime ritual, keeping your sleep space cool and dark, and setting regular times for waking and going to bed.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture, a Chinese medicine practice that utilizes needles placed throughout the body, can improve blood pressure in some people.
If your blood pressure is very high and cannot be managed with lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe medications to help. This will need to be done with care for other conditions and medications you may be on, including pain medicines that could cause interactions. The most common medications used for blood pressure are:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors: These medications prevent the blood vessels from narrowing.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs): By blocking angiotensin II, these drugs relax the blood vessels and lower blood pressure. This is done by restricting the blood flow and increasing pressure.
- Diuretics: These remove sodium and extra water from the body.
- Beta-blockers: By lowering the heartbeat, beta-blockers can ultimately lower blood pressure.
When to Seek Treatment
High blood pressure can be detected at any doctor’s visit, as this is one of the vital signs they monitor regularly. Most people will not present with symptoms of high blood pressure, so it is often discovered this way or when serious conditions arise. However, when high blood pressure is a result of back pain, you can take proactive measures to prevent future complications. Any time you suspect high blood pressure, you should visit a local pharmacy or doctor to check your numbers. The ideal blood pressure is 120/80, but anytime you have a systolic over 140 or a diastolic over 90 you should seek further care.
Any back pain is a reason to seek treatment. While some minor pain can resolve on its own after a situational flare-up, back pain usually indicates an issue with the spine that should be addressed. Without treatment, the pain can worsen as the condition worsens and the spine attempts to compensate.
Some symptoms that may be related to both pain and high blood pressure include:
- Neck ache
- Severe headaches
- Vision problems
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Blood in the urine
- Irregular heartbeat
- A pounding sensation in the neck, chest, or ears
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially in conjunction with back pain, seek immediate medical attention.
Potential Complications of High Blood Pressure
If blood pressure is raised over an extended period of time without being controlled, it can cause serious issues. The excessive pressure placed on your artery walls by high blood pressure can cause damage to the blood vessels and organs over time. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it is uncontrolled, the more damage is possible.
Complications from uncontrolled high blood pressure may include:
- Heart attack or stroke: When the arteries become hard and thick, it is a condition known as atherosclerosis, which is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.
- Aneurysm: When the blood vessels weaken due to increased blood pressure, they can bulge and form an aneurysm. If this aneurysm ruptures, it can be fatal.
- Heart failure: The heart has to work harder to pump blood against the higher pressure in your blood vessels. The walls of the heart’s pumping chamber then thicken in a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy. Over time, the thickened muscles can fail to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs, leading to heart failure.
- Kidney problems: If the blood vessels in your kidneys become weakened and narrowed, they may not be able to function normally.
- Vision problems: If the blood vessels in the eyes become thickened, narrowed, or town, you may experience vision loss.
- Metabolic syndrome: This syndrome is a group of disorders of the body’s metabolism, such as increased waist size, high triglycerides, decreased “good” cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high insulin levels. All of these conditions increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
- Trouble with memory and comprehension: Uncontrolled hypertension can affect your ability to think, remember, process, and learn.
- Dementia: If narrowed and blocked arteries impact blood flow to the brain, it can cause a type of dementia known as vascular dementia. This can also be brought on by a stroke that interrupts blood flow to the brain.
Managing Back Pain to Prevent Hypertension
If you are suffering from any form of back pain, relief itself is an important goal that requires you to seek care. But if that pain worsens or becomes chronic, it may become even more critical that you address the issue, as your blood pressure can be raised more permanently, leading to complications far beyond your back pain.
The team at AICA Conyers will be able to evaluate your back pain and determine the root cause before developing a comprehensive treatment plan. Your course of care will include not only relief from pain, but also a focus on your overall health and how the pain impacts your body’s other systems, including the cardiovascular system. This may include non-invasive treatments, spinal decompression treatment, and others that are specifically suited to your needs. If you are experiencing back pain and want to avoid a chronic condition and other health impacts, contact AICA Conyers today to schedule your first consultation with our team of experts.