Challenge your previous beliefs, up to date facts about back pain!
1. Persistent back pain can be scary, but it’s rarely dangerous.
Persistent back pain can distressing and disabling, but it’s rarely life-threatening and you are very unlikely to end up in a wheelchair.
2. Getting older is not a cause of back pain
Although it is a widespread belief and concern that getting older causes or worsens back pain, research does not support this, and evidence-based treatments can help at any age.
3. Persistent back pain is rarely associated with serious tissue damage
Backs are strong. If you had an injury, tissue healing occurs within three months, so if pain persists past this time, it usually means there are other contributing factors. A lot of back pain begins with no injury or with simple, everyday movement. These occasions may relate to stress, tension, fatigue, inactivity or unaccustomed activity with make the back sensitive to movement and loading.
4. Scans rarely show the cause of back pain
Scans are only helpful in a minority of people. Lots of scary-sounding things can be reported on scans such as disc bulges, degeneration, protrusions, arthritis etc. Unfortunately, the reports don’t say that these findings are very common in people without back and that they don’t predict how much pain you feel or how disabled you are. Scans can also change, and most disc prolapses shrink over time.
5. Pain with exercise and movement doesn’t mean you are doing harm
When pain persists, it is common that the spine and surrounding muscles become really sensitive to touch and movement. The pain you feel during movements and activities reflects how sensitive your structures are – not how damaged you are. So it’s safe and normal to feel some pain when you start to move and exercise. This usually settle down with time as you get more active. In fact, exercise and movement are one of the most effective ways to help treat back pain.
6. Back pain is not caused by poor posture
How we sit, stand and bend does no cause back pain though these activities may be painful. A variety of postures are healthy for the back. It is safe to relax during everyday tasks such as sitting, bending and lifting with a round back – in fact, it’s more efficient!
7. Back pain is not caused by a ‘weak core’
Weak ‘core’ muscles do not cause back pain, in fact people with back pain often tense their ‘core’ muscles as a protective response. This is like clenching your fist after you’ve spread your wrist. Being strong is important when you need muscles to switch on, but being tense all the time isn’t helpful. Learning to relax the ‘core’ muscles during everyday tasks can be helpful.
8. Backs do not wear out with everyday loading and bending
The same way lifting weights makes muscles stronger, moving and loading make the back stronger and healthier. So activities like running, twisting, bending and lifting, are safe if you start gradually and practice regularly.
9. Pain flare-ups don’t mean you are damaging yourself
While pain flare-ups can be very painful and scary, they are not usually related to tissue damage. The common triggers are things like poor sleep, stress, tension, worries, low mood, inactivity or unaccustomed activity. Controlling these factors can help prevent exacerbations, and if you have a pain flare-up, instead of treating it like an injury, try to stay calm, relax and keep moving!
10. Injections, surgery and strong drops usually aren’t a cure.
Spine injections, surgery and strong drugs like opioids aren’t very effective for persistent back pain in the long term, They come with risks and can have unhelpful side effects. Finding low-risk ways to put you in control of your pain is the key.
O’Sullivan, P. B., Caneiro, J. P., O’Sullivan, K., Lin, I., Bunzli, S., Wernli, K., & O’Keeffe, M. (2019). Back to basics: 10 facts every person should know about back pain.
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