Common back pain myths: What to do when it strikes
June 13, 2018
Back pain is a very common condition with 84% of people worldwide experiencing some pain in their lifetime (O’Keeffe, 2017) but it is rarely serious with only 1% of back pain disorders related to cancer, infection, fracture or an inflammatory process and only 5% of back pain associated with nerve compression (O’Sullivan, 2015). In most people 90 – 95% is caused by a simple strain of the back and have no diagnosis based on scans and most people recover quickly without the need for treatment (O’Sullivan, 2015). There are many myths circulating about the condition and back pain can be managed sensibly without resorting to drastic measures like surgery.
Below are some common myths about back pain and the latest evidence about cause and treatment:
Myth 1: I need a scan to show me the cause of my back pain.
Fact: As said above the majority of back pain is caused by simple strains and sprains and will not change your treatment by the physiotherapist or any other health care provider. Based on a person’s medical history and symptoms the GP or physiotherapist will be able to identify if a scan is required. According to the latest scientific research scans are only needed when a serious condition is suspected (cancer, fracture, broken bone, infection). Research has shown that people who don’t have back pain have disc bulges (30% of 20-year-olds increasing to 96% of 80-year-olds), disc protrusions (29% of 20-year-olds increasing to 43% of those 80 years of age) and facet joint degeneration or arthritis (4% of 20 -year- olds increasing to 83% of 80-year-olds). These are normal findings that increase with age and show that results of scans correlate poorly with pain and disability levels.
Myth 2: Exercise will make my pain worse
Fact: There is very strong evidence that gradually increasing and returning to activities, work and hobbies are very important in helping you recover (O’Keeffe, 2017) and exercise is the best approach for helping and reducing back pain (O’Sullivan, 2014). The back like all body parts is designed for movement. Walking, running, cycling, swimming, yoga and Pilates are all very good for back pain. The best exercise is the one you like doing and will stick to over time.
Myth 3: Pain equals damage
Fact: Pain isn’t necessarily an indication of injury or damage, or even ‘it must be a slipped disc!!!’, recent scientific evidence now shows that the ‘volume switch’ for back pain can be turned up by multiple factors such as past experiences of pain, health (low energy, feeling tired), lifestyle (overweight, sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep patterns), psychological (low mood, stress, depression), physical (avoiding normal movements), and social (stressful life).
Myth 4: Back pain can’t be cured
Fact: It can be common to be told ‘your pain cannot be changed you just have to live with it’, but like any other injury of the body such as an ankle sprain it does get better with time and gradual movement, and just as avoiding movement would not help your ankle, the same goes for back pain or injury. As discussed pain including back pain can be influenced by many factors such as poor sleep, stress and low mood and everyone’s experience is unique to each individual, therefore setting personal goals to address these issues can very important for improving pain and aiding recovery.
What can I do now?
- Stay positive and don’t panic!
- Keep moving, stay active and stay at work
- Daily exercise to help reduce pain and prevent future episodes
- Set personal goals to promote a healthy lifestyle.
- Start with simple over the counter painkillers