Your thoughts can harm your neck and back 

Your thoughts can harm your neck and back 

The mental distress of cognitive dissonance (encountering information that conflicts with how we act or what we believe) can lead to added pressure on the neck and lower back during lifting and lowering tasks, new research suggests.

Seventeen research participants – nine men and eight women aged 19 to 44 – completed three phases of an experiment in which they placed a lightweight box within a square on a surface that was moving left and right, as well as up and down. After a short practice run, researchers gave almost exclusively positive feedback during the first of two 45-minute trial blocks. During the second, the feedback increasingly suggested participants were performing in an unsatisfactory way. 

Results showed that the higher the cognitive dissonance score, the greater the extent of loading on the upper and lower parts of the spine. “This increased spine loading occurred under just one condition with a fairly light load – you can imagine what this would be like with more complex tasks or higher loads,” says senior author William Marras, executive director of the Spine Research Institute at The Ohio State University. “Basically, the study scratched the surface of showing there’s something to this.”

The findings suggest cognitive dissonance may be a previously unidentified risk factor for neck and lower back pain, which could have implications for risk prevention in the workplace, according to the researchers. “We’re trying to unravel this onion and understand all the different things that affect spine disorders because it’s really, really complex,” Marras adds. “Just like the whole system has got to be right for a car to run correctly, we’re learning that that’s the way it is with the spine. You could be in physically great shape, but if you’re not thinking correctly or appropriately, or you have all these mental irregularities, like cognitive dissonance, that will affect the system. And until you get that right, you’re not going to be right.”

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