10 Low back pain myths - Fact Sheet
The lumbar spine is a complex yet highly adaptable series of joints in the human body. Due to old, outdated research and medical practices (that are still somehow continually practiced today 😡), and due to the negative influences of mainstream media and social media, injuries of the lower back are often CATASTROPHISED and make patients’ back pain WORSE.
Below are a few common beliefs/myths about low back pain that should be considered when dealing with low back pain:
1. Slipped discs:
The discs of the spine can’t, never have, and will never slip! They are not rigid structures, but rather malleable pouches of fluid that allow our spines to take load.
2. My scan said “this”, therefore I am injured!:
This is wrong, wrong, wrong! Scans such as X-Rays, MRI’s and CT scans should merely be used to confirm a queried diagnosis, based on reported and physical symptoms. Unfortunately, the lumbar spine is an over-scanned structure in our society, and often leads to people believing that just because they have an abnormality on a scan, that they are injured. In fact, research has proven that roughly 40% of people over the age of 30 have some sort of abnormality on spinal scans, with the percentages increasing with age.
3. The presence of back pain means there is structural damage to my spine:
Again, this has been proven wrong. People can have back pain with no evidence of structural damage at all! Other influences such as mood, beliefs around back pain, history of previous injury, individual tolerance to pain, positive vs. negative outlooks for recovery, and social and work influences can all impact the presence and intensity of low back pain.
4. Lifting weights (such as deadlifts) causes low back pain – INCORRECT!:
In fact, lifting weights will strengthen your spine and spinal muscles. The stronger your spinal muscles are, the more tolerant your spine is to taking heavy loads and being able to lift things with reduced risk of injury.
5. Rest helps back pain:
Complete rest, such as bed rest, is NEVER the answer. The human spine is designed to move and loves movement! Even if you have severe low back pain, find some spinal movements you can tolerate and do them, or even just go for a short walk. This will desensitise your pain and improve your overall recovery.
6. Manual therapy:
Many therapists suggest that they can “fix” back pain with spinal mobilisations, manipulations, and soft tissue work. However, it is very, very, very unlikely that their manual therapy actually fixes the issue. Rather, this usually gives a short-term effect due to stimulation of the nervous system, leading to a reduction in the pain response. The most proven, evidence-based treatment for low back pain is twofold: Exercise & Education.
Corticosteroid injections are often used to help treat the symptoms of low back pain. However, it is really important to remember this fact: injections merely mask the pain, they don’t actually fix the issue. Again, exercise should be used in conjunction with any injections into the spine, to actually improve the spines strength and adaptability.
8. Disc bulges:
Some people think that once they have a disc bulge, it will always be there. But – keep in mind that the spine is highly adaptable – through exercise, disc bulges can actually be reabsorbed back into the middle of the disc!
9. Flare ups:
Re-occurrences of low back pain often occur, but it is important to remember that this is a normal part of the recovery process. Flare-ups do NOT mean there is any further damage to the spine, OR that you aren’t improving! If you are flared up, keep moving as tolerated, and stay positive! You WILL improve and get better!
10. Recovery is NOT linear!
The image below illustrates expected recovery vs. actual recovery from low back pain. There will be some blips on the radar along the way, but as long as you are gradually improving over time, this is a good thing! The recovery from back pain is generally unpredictable – it can take weeks, months, or even years to never get symptoms again!