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Debunking Myths of Low Back Pain

Introduction

A recent panel of experts co-wrote an article making the rounds on social media this week concerning some myths about low back pain. Here are some of the highlights from the article, which can be foud here:

 

 

  • Back pain is common

 

About 84% of us will experience low back pain in our lifetimes. All ages can be affected, as well as all activity-levels. While it can be scary and painful, most people rebound nicely and resume their previous level of function. Even if you have recurrent or chronic low back pain, it is rarely life-threatening or dangerous to your body.

 

  • Imaging can do more harm than good

 

It’s normal to want to identify and name the source of your back pain, but the research actually suggests x-rays and MRIs are only needed to rule out a serious condition, such as cancer, fracture, or infection, which only make up about 1-2% of all cases of low back pain. As our other blogs have pointed out, all of us (regardless of age) will have something pop-up on an x-ray or MRI. One study showed a disc bulge in 75% of 20 year olds, all with no complaints of pain. Arthritic changes, disc bulges, and all the other normal findings of imaging are actually poorly linked to low back pain. Don’t treat the image.

 

  • Your spine is stable

 

The language we use is important. Unfortunately, most people have heard the phrases “you’re out of alignment” or “you threw your back out” from a healthcare provider before. This language is dangerous because the images associated with it cause us to move differently and be fearful we are going to cause “damage” to our spine. Trust us, your spine is stable, the pain you’re experience may likely just be a result of muscle guarding, stress, and your body tensing up. Gentle and frequent movement and breathing techniques may be all you need.

Conclusion

Back pain is very common and often treated in physical therapy. Don’t necessarily ignore your pain, but don’t rush out to get surgery either. Consult with your physician and physical therapist to determine the best methods to treat your symptoms and rule out other diagnoses. Try to stay calm and stay active.

By Cole Racich, PT, DPT, OCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist