According to the National Institute for Arthritis and Muscoloskeletal Diseases, 8 out of every 10 people experience back pain at some point in their lives. Although conditions like sciatica, degenerative disc disease, and arthritis are extremely common, there’s still some misinformation floating around that we wanted to “straighten out.”
Knowledge is power (as is a strong back!), so we thought we’d pass along some common misconceptions about back pain:
Back pain will inevitably lead to permanent disability or impairment.
According to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, how you react to your pain is more closely linked to long-term disability than the results of an MRI. In fact, the people at the highest risk for chronic pain typically suffer from psychological conditions like depression and anxiety. These stressors make it more difficult to get on with daily life and physical activity. Said one researcher, “The development of chronic disabling low back pain is more about psychology than anatomy.”
Back pain usually indicates a serious health problem.
According to a study of 1,200 patients experiencing acute back pain, less than 1 percent had a serious condition like a fracture, cancer, or infection. Your physician or physical therapist may be able to identify certain aspects of your medical history that may indicate a more serious underlying medical condition– but rarely are serious conditions the root cause of back pain.
Exercise is bad for your back.
False! Strengthening your abs and core do condition the back muscles as well, offering stabilization for the spine. Yoga is another great, low-impact activity that can be great for your back. Any exercise that strengthens the midsection can help take some of the load off your spine.
Disc “degeneration” is a disease.
Degeneration of your spinal discs is a completely normal process. Ever since you were a teen, in fact, the blood supply to your discs have been gradually decreasing–and by the time you’re around 40, even completely healthy adults might show some radiographic evidence of disc degeneration. The condition known commonly as “degenerative disc disease” typically occurs when a disc is badly damaged, causing chronic pain.
Lower back pain inevitably leads to back surgery.
Surgery is far from inevitable if you’re experiencing lower back pain. In fact, according to a study by the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, it’s quite common for symptoms to fade on their own within three months. If possible and supported by your physician, your first plan of action for lower back pain should always be non-invasive.
Back pain should sideline you from work.
When your body is inactive for a long period of time, you’re depriving your muscles of the activity they need to rebuild and repair themselves. Muscle strength is lost much faster than it is gained, and staying home from work due to minor back pain can sometimes do more harm than good. It’s also important to note that recurrence of back pain does not necessarily indicate more damage to the spine. Be sure to consult your physician or physical therapist if you have any concerns or questions about working with back pain.