There are many myths and misconceptions about back pain. With so much information out there, it is often hard to tell myth from the truth. The fact is that most of us will be affected by back pain at some point in our lives. What do you do when you are suffering from lower back pain or sciatica? I will debunk some of the most common myths that are out there and give you the truth on lower back pain.
- Back pain won’t happen to me. This is a common myth that many people believe. The truth is that back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world. Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work and the second most common reason for a visit to the doctor’s office. Experts estimate that 80% of the population will experience a back issue at some point in their lives.
- Back pain is caused by something you did at one time or the result of a single injury. This is another myth that many people believe. Although, it is true that a single accident or injury such as a car accident or fall can cause back pain. Most cases of back pain are actually a result of years of microtrauma caused by repetitive overuse, poor posture, and faulty mechanics. Most cases of back pain are due to what is known as fault lines. A fault line is caused by lack of movement which leads to weakness. This weakness leads to tightness and then to imbalance. It is the imbalance in your system that will result in pain and inflammation.
- Bed rest is the best treatment for lower back pain. This is another classic myth. Most back problems are caused by a lack of movement and bed rest will just make this worse. The right kind of movement is key to getting you better. Cutting back on harmful or painful movements is necessary to calm the area down. But complete bed rest is one of the worst treatments for lower back pain.
- The best core exercises are sit ups and back extensions. These exercises only work a portion of the core and not the whole system. Sit ups will place increased stress on the spine and can be dangerous for your spine. Back extensions only work the spine in one direction or plane of movement and are not the best way to improve your core. The best core exercises work on all the muscle of the core which include the abdominals, back extensor group, gluteal muscles and hip flexors. These muscles should be worked in multiple directions of movement in ways that mimic the way they are used in daily activities.
- The amount of back pain is directly linked to the severity of damage. This is another common myth that I often hear. In acute pain (onset of less than 3 months), often the level of pain does in fact indicate the amount of damage. If you strain your back while lifting an awkward heavy object and suffer a muscle strain the amount of pain experienced can indicate how severe the muscle was injured. However, in chronic back pain (greater than 3 months), the amount of pain does not indicate the severity of damage. The nervous system has become out of balance due to the length of time the pain has been present. The sympathetic nervous system is now hyper-active and the body is in a constant state of arousal. This lead to chronic muscle tightness, spasm, trigger points, nerve pain, numbness/tingling which lead to inability to sleep or relax. This results in the brain interpreting the level of damage as being greater than what actually exists.
- I am physically active, so I shouldn’t get back pain. This myth often leads us to believe that we are safe from back pain when in fact anyone can suffer a back problem. See myth number 1. While it is true that being physically active does lower your chance of suffering a back problem, if you are too active and not resting enough your chance of back pain will increase. You must rest in order for your body to repair itself. If you are doing the same activity repetitively, then the same muscle groups are getting worked while others are not. This results in a fault line and imbalance which will increase your chance of a back problem even though you are being active.
- Bad backs run in my family, therefore I will problems too. For the majority of conditions related to back pain, there is no genetic predisposition. This means that parents do not pass their back conditions onto their children.
- I need a MRI to find out how to fix my back problem. This is common myth that many believe. The fact is that an abnormality found on a MRI or CT scan does not indicate that it is the cause of the pain. A vast majority of people who have never had an episode of back pain will have abnormalities such as a herniated or degenerative disc on MRI. 95% of those with back pain can be successfully treated without back surgery or the need for expensive tests. Often the abnormality seen on the MRI has most likely been present for quite some time before the pain even started.
- Rest is the key to recovery from back pain. See myth number 3. While it is true that avoidance of certain activities or movements that are damaging to your condition is necessary. Complete rest will actually make the problem worse. Remember that the pain is a result of the fault lines in the body which are caused by lack of movement. It is the movement in the correct way that will allow your body to heal itself.
- Chronic back pain means I will need surgery. This is myth that is quite dangerous to believe. Although in certain cases, back surgery may the needed such as acute nerve root compression with increased leg weakness. Spine surgery actually has a decreased likelihood of being successful when treating chronic pain. Conservative non-invasive treatment is the best course of action in cases of chronic back pain.
These are the most common myths about back pain and the truth behind them. If you or someone you care about is suffering from back pain. Call us at (808) 333-3688 for Kauai Location -or- (208) 205-9559 for Idaho Location, to see one of our back pain specialists. The longer you ignore the problem the worse it can get.
Credit Mike Urlhab, PT