Last week I put up a poll in the Eagle County Mountain Sports Injury Group about things people wanted to know about. Here’s a link to the group if you are interested.
The most answered topic was back pain, and a couple of people asked about exercise for back pain. That can be a tricky question, because there are lots of different reasons for back pain, and they can call for different strategies. I will answer that in an upcoming post. But, today I wanted to talk about some of the myths and misconceptions about back pain. Back pain is very common. And there is a lot of fear and uncertainty for people about. When you see some of these misconceptions it may help you understand why exercise might be so variable. So here are 5 common myths about back pain.
- Your back needs special protection in regards to posture and specific exercises or it can get damaged because it is so weak and fragile: This is the biggest myth I see in people’s understanding of their back and the messages they get from culture and the medical system. Yes low back pain is common, and it can be serious and very limiting when it happens. But, your spine is actually very strong and resilient and is designed to tolerate all kinds of heavy loads and various postures. Do we need to be careful and limit things when we have an injury? Yes. Does sitting “wrong” or lifting “wrong” cause us severe problems? Probably not. If we are lifting high loads we should be aware of good posture. If we are sitting or sedentary a lot moving can help. But good general exercise has been shown to be as effective as any specific kinds to help your back pain.
- If you have back pain you need x-rays or an MRI for safe treatment or return to activity: Yes there are sometimes serious injuries or situations called “red flags” that require these tests. Examples are trauma that might cause a fracture, significant or progressive neurological changes, and severe intractable pain. But, most low back pain is not these things. Conservative management does not generally require these for safe effective treatment.
- If you have a disk issue you will have problems for ever and need to change how you live: This relates to the above issue. Many people get tests done with back pain. Those tests frequently show bulging, herniated, or degenerative disks. What people don’t understand is many people without pain would also have those findings too. Changes in our spine are quite normal as we age, and they aren’t always the sole cause of our pain. You can treat things conservatively, feel better, and the tests would not change.
- When you have back pain you need to stop doing everything until the pain stops: Pain is disconcerting. When we have it we are understandably concerned that we are hurting ourselves when we feel it. But, many times our system has become sensitized, and you are not causing harm, your body is just saying be aware or careful. Feeling some pain with activity is OK. Keeping active and as normal as possible, within reason, has been shown to be helpful in recovering from back pain. Try to keep up as many activities as you can and modify what you need to.
- Back pain is only about the damage to tissues and physical things I do to my back: Of course tissue injury and physical loads we place on our back affect back pain. But pain is seldom single cause, although that’s what we are all looking for, a cause to fix. Pain can have contributions from our biology, which includes tissue and structure but also things like stress biology, psychology, and sociology. So if you have persisting back pain it can help to also evaluate things like sleep, stress, nutrition, worry, and fear. Also understanding how the pain is affecting your life. Things like how it affects your job, family life and recreational activities. Many people get focused on what part they can fix, and miss other important contributing things.
As you can see, there can be a lot to back pain. Many people get it, and it may just be a normal part of our lives that we have to deal with time to time. If you have any questions about back pain, post a comment, call us at 970-949-9966 or go to ascent-pt.com.