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Debunking the Top 10 Back Pain Myths

When it comes to avoiding, or treating, back pain, there is a lot of unreliable information out there. Knowing the difference between back pain myths and back pain facts is key to keeping your back healthy and pain-free.

“Your spine is resilient, robust, and adaptable; treat it as such,” said Summit Orthopedics physical therapist Justin Kertis, PT, DPT. “It’s meant to bend and twist and should be exercised and loaded just like any other muscle or joint, gradually and slowly.”

Truth: There are very few instances where back pain is life threatening or immediate medical intervention is required. Most injuries (strains, pulls, etc.) can be managed on your own. Chronic back pain is similar. In most cases, surgery is not required, although it may take more time to heal than a more acute injury.

Truth: In reality, most injuries physically heal within three months. If pain persists for longer, there are likely other factors contributing to the pain. Stress, poor sleep, a sedentary lifestyle, and doing too much too soon all play a role in making your back and surrounding tissues more sensitive to movement and exercise.

Truth: If everyone got a scan of their back, chances are something would be found (disc bulge, arthritis, disc degeneration). Imaging can be useful for some people, but scans don’t always predict how much pain you will be in or how disabled you are.

Truth: There is no one “perfect” posture that is better than another. Your body does not like being in one position for a long time, which is why it may feel as though a “slouched” posture is causing your pain. Your body likes to move, and being in various postures is healthy for the back. You should sit or stand in a posture that’s comfortable for you and change it every 30 to 60 minutes.

Truth: A weak core does not lead to back pain. Back pain can cause the core muscles to tense up in order to protect the back, so learning to relax your core can be helpful with managing your pain. You will need a strong core in certain cases, such as lifting heavy things, so strengthening your core is not a bad idea.

Truth: Similar to muscles, using the back will make it stronger. The back is meant to bend, extend, and twist, so lifting, pushing, and pulling will make it healthier and more resilient.

Truth: Even though flare-ups are no fun, it’s unlikely you are making things worse. Common reasons for flare-ups are poor sleep, increased stress, inactivity, a depressed mood, or doing something your body was not used to nor ready to do. Addressing these issues can help with preventing flare-ups, and keeping calm when one does happen will help as well.

Truth: Having an injection or using strong painkillers is like putting on a bandage — it might take the pain away temporarily, but it does not address the root cause of the problem. Surgery may be beneficial for some, but in most cases, it will not fix the problem, especially in those with persistent back pain.

Truth: It may be helpful to rest for the first few days after an injury, but after that, it’s time to get moving. Your joints and muscles will get sensitive and stiff if you rest for too long, so start gently and move through a range that you can tolerate. It’s okay if there is some pain with exercise and movement (it is usually a reflection of how sensitive things are, not how damaged things are), and it usually will calm down as you move more.

  1. Myth: You should never let your low back bend when lifting

Truth: Your back is meant to bend. If you always lift with a “straight” spine, it won’t be ready for the instance where you do have to let it bend. Your joints, discs, and muscles adapt to the forces that are and aren’t placed on it. If you never expose your back to lifting in these bent positions, it won’t be able to handle it when you do.

Find more information on the science behind these 10 myth-busting back facts.