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5 myths about back pain

5 Myths about Back Pain

by Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTPLeave a Comment

60-80% of adults will experience low back pain at some point. Back pain is linked to increased health care costs and missed work. There is a lot of information out there about the causes of and best ways to treat back pain. It may not be easy to distinguish what is myth and reality amongst this abundance of information. Here are five myths about low back pain and more information about what is true.

1. Bed rest is the best treatment for all types of back pain: FALSE

Movement is sometimes the best thing to help with back pain. Physical activity helps increase blood flow throughout the body, including the muscles of the low back. For those with chronic back pain, or pain lasting longer than three months, aerobic exercise can benefit them by increasing the blood flow to the back, which brings more nutrients to the tissues, which can help to reduce overall stiffness. Aerobic exercise can also help the body release natural endorphins, which help to decrease our perception of pain.1 Example of good aerobic exercises includes walking or riding a bicycle.

Core stabilization exercises can decrease low back pain. There are many core stabilization exercises, but several examples include planks, bird dogs, and low ab marching. Remember, a consultation with a physical therapist can guide good exercises catered to each individual’s needs.

2. You must always sit up straight: FALSE

Sitting slouched is not great for you, but sitting up too straight and for too long is not good for your back either. Your back, like all joints and muscles, likes movement. Staying in any one position for too long can make you feel stiff and more painful. If sitting at a desk all day, try taking breaks where you stand, walking around, and allowing the natural curve to return to your low back. If you need a reminder not to sit for too long, try setting a timer!

3. Lifting is bad for your back: FALSE

It is more about how you are lifting rather than the actual task of lifting that may not be the best for your back. Proper lifting mechanics include:

  • Bringing the object as close to you as possible
  • Spreading your legs apart and having a wide base of support
  • Bending with your legs instead of rounding your back
  • Tightening your abdominal muscles and lifting with your legs
  • Keeping your head up
  • Breathing; do not hold your breath
  • Do not twist; instead, move your feet, so they are facing the direction you want to move the object

In terms of strength training, lifting can help you strengthen your back and supporting muscles decreasing your risk of injury.

4. Pain level is related to the severity of injury: FALSE

Many people may incorrectly assume that the more severe your pain is, the more severe an injury may be. Pain level is not associated with the actual severity of the injury. Pain levels are based on the individual and are difficult to compare. Research studies have shown that structural abnormalities in the spine are identified with CT or MRI imaging in patients reporting back pain and those without symptoms.2 Therefore, structural changes, including arthritic changes or disc changes, are not associated with pain levels or the severity of the injury.2

The best option when you are experiencing back pain is to start physical therapy as soon as possible. Research has shown that there are cost savings for those with recent-onset low back pain when they begin physical therapy within the first two weeks, and the focus of physical therapy is on active treatments.3 These patients used fewer physical therapy visits and had less use of advanced imaging, fewer injections, surgery, and less use of opioids.3

5. All disc injuries require back surgery: FALSE

The majority of disc herniations reabsorb, and patients become asymptomatic within eight weeks of symptom onset.2 Therefore, conservative management is recommended as the first option for many patients experiencing disc-type symptoms. Many times, physical therapy is recommended before CT or MRI imaging. There are some exceptions, including bladder or bowel changes, muscle atrophy, or motor weakness, in which an MRI and more urgent medical management would be recommended.

Physical therapy for those experiencing disc symptoms will focus on pain management, flexibility, strengthening, and returning you to your everyday work and daily activities as quickly and safely as possible, many times without surgery.

Athletico Can Help Treat Your Low Back Pain

Low back pain is a common complaint among many adults. If you are experiencing low back pain, find your nearest Athletico clinic and schedule a free assessment to get started today!

Request a Free Assessment

Physical therapy is usually the thing you are told to do after medication, x-rays or surgery. The best way to fix your pain is to start where you normally finish – with physical therapy at Athletico.

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Gordon R, Bloxham S. A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Healthcare (Basel). 2016;4(2):22. Published 2016 Apr 25. doi:10.3390/healthcare4020022
2. Rao D, Scuderi G, Scuderi C, Grewal R, Sandhu SJ. The Use of Imaging in Management of Patients with Low Back Pain. J Clin Imaging Sci. 2018;8:30. Published 2018 Aug 24. doi:10.4103/jcis.JCIS_16_18
3. Childs JD, Fritz JM, Wu SS, et al. Implications of early and guideline adherent physical therapy for low back pain on utilization and costs [published correction appears in BMC Health Serv Res. 2016 Aug 26;16(1):444]. BMC Health Serv Res. 2015;15:150. Published 2015 Apr 9. doi:10.1186/s12913-015-0830-3

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About the Author:
Tara Hackney, a physical therapist in Marion, IA, enjoys working with all patient types, especially gymnasts, cheerleaders, and dancers. She is the prominent blogger for Athletico's Gymnastic/Cheer Program. With an orthopedic specialization and training in dry needling and Graston technique, Tara hopes to answer your questions about injuries and injury prevention in an easy-to-understand manner. She hopes to ease fears surrounding pain and injuries, address concerns about recovery, and provide tips to prevent injury. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her dog, reading, and watching her nephews play sports.

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