Hearsay on Back Pain from a Manchester Physio Who Knows The Score
What we think about lower back pain is hugely influenced by friends and family. But where do the myths end and the truth start?
You seldom hear anyone say “Oh, I had back pain…it’s fine now” because that’s not a story. All we ever hear is horror stories. “Such and such had back pain and they needed surgery”. Or “such and such ended up in a wheelchair”.
The reality is, 80% of us will get significant lower back pain at some point in our life. Back pain is really common. Contrary to what you may have heard, the overwhelming majority will recover brilliantly. If that’s enough to convince you to take back control you can book to see a physio here.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy looked into the top four myths. The latest research shoots holes in them. Here are the four myths that top the charts. And why not to believe them.
Myth One: Moving will make my back pain worse
In the initial (acute) stage movement can be very uncomfortable and the pain debilitating. A short period of rest – 48hours – is fine but after that period it is important to re-introduce movement. Build back up to normal activity and return to work as soon as possible.
Previous generations were often prescribed prolonged periods of bed rest which actually just resulted in the vital back stabilising muscles getting weaker. The knock on effect meant a massive increase in the likelihood they were going to hurt their back again.
Old advice meant that the chances of ongoing back pain were more likely, fuelling the older generations to spin a tales amounting to a lower back horror story.
Unfortunately, because on the face of it, the pain got less during bed rest and then got worse when they started doing more, people believed that movement was bad for their back. The problem was, it was only bad for their back BECAUSE of the bed rest!
Myth Two: I should avoid exercise – especially weight training
Exercise is widely recognised as being the best way to treat low back pain in both the early and later stages of the pain. Whilst no one type of exercise can be shown to be better than any other medical experts agree:
exercise is great for your back.
Start off gently – in the acute stage a gentle 10-15 minute walk may be sufficient. Then build back up as discomfort reduces and confidence increases.
A quick story about me…3 years ago, I prolapsed a couple of discs in my lower back (lots of people would call it slipping a disc, but this is another horrible myth…discs don’t slip!). I had severe pain and was really limited in what I could do for a couple of months despite my best efforts to get moving. I had treatment, and started doing regular strengthening exercises and sure enough, my pain got better. And guess what…when I don’t do any exercise for about 3 weeks, my back starts to ache. If I do some kind of exercise, including heavy lifting 2-3 times a week, my back feels WAY better.
If I listened to the general consensus that lifting weights is bad for your back, I am very sure by now that I’d have had to have surgery on my back. Instead, I listened to some brilliant professionals (and myself) and live a pain-free life doing everything I want to do!
Myth Three: A scan will tell me exactly what is wrong
The problem with scans is that they show everything that is happening in the spine. This can be incredibly useful at times but is not always helpful.
Recent research reveals a massive majority of people who don’t have any lower back pain, will have “problems” that show up on an MRI scan.
An amazing number of people get told they have Arthritis in their back or degenerative disc disease. This could be true, but it’s like telling someone they’ve got grey hair. It’s a completely normal part of life and it doesn’t have to cause pain.
I see loads of people who have been told they have Arthritis, and degenerative disc disease. They come to our clinics thinking there isn’t really a lot that can be done for them. However, that problem didn’t come on overnight. One day they didn’t have pain, and the next they did. There’s no way that their Arthritis or degenerative disc disease wasn’t there one day and was the next. You may well have those things. It doesn’t mean you have to put up with pain!
So it follows that things showing up on a scan aren’t an indicator of pain.
Scans taken in conjunction with a physical assessment will give a much clearer picture and there’s nearly always something that can be done. Get in touch for a fifteen minute assessment at one of our clinics.
Myth Four: Back pain equals damage
With the better understanding the medical profession is developing on what pain is and how it works we know that ‘Back pain equals damage’ isn’t true.
Pain and how we perceive it can be influenced by a whole host of things. These include our previous experiences, the beliefs that back pain cannot be treated and will reoccur, general health, and sleep. All of these factors play a part in the severity of the pain we experience. With the back being very important to the body, the brain can even make the pain feel even worse just so you don’t ignore it.
Often the severity of the problem is far minor than you think. If you had the same issue in your ankle, for example, the pain would be massively less as it’s less important to you.
This fourth myth means that to treat back pain and get our patients back to doing the things they love, we spend time on an in-depth assessment. During the initial 15 minutes, we explain what the injury is and how the problem can be resolved. This understanding is a critical first step to getting our patients back to the life they love and away from the pain they hate.
So what should you do for your back pain?
As I said earlier, there is nearly always something that can be done to help. We know that there are a lot of horror stories out there, but please don’t just put up with back pain or listen to the myths and rumours.
We are offering free 15 minute Physio assessments at our clinics in Sale and Whalley, so there is literally nothing to lose. You can see one of our Physios, and find out what can be done to get you back to doing the things you love.
It’s quick and easy and you could be seeing an experienced Physio today who will help you get control back.
For a full list of research references for those interested further please check out the CSP page: Myth Busters.