6 Back Pain Myths (Debunked!)
Concerned about back pain flare-ups impacting your life? You’re not alone. Back pain is the second most common reason people go to the doctor. When it comes to managing back pain symptoms and preventing future injury, however, many misconceptions lead people down the wrong path Don’t miss these 6 common back pain myths (debunked!):
Back pain is only caused by serious injury.
Oftentimes acute back pain is exacerbated by a fear that a more serious underlying issue is at fault. Will I need to have surgery? Will I be able to keep doing the things I love? While it’s completely normal to have these concerns, the good news is that most cases of back pain are not from a serious injury like a herniated disc or muscle tear.
The American Chiropractic Association shares that while most back pain is mechanical in nature (caused by strain or poor body mechanics), 50% of all working Americans admit to having some form of back pain each year. The way the spine is built with vertebrae stacked one on top the other and muscles and tendons connecting off of it to the rest of the skeleton, it’s easy to strain or pull one of those connective tissues. It’s most often that act, or increased pressure on the spine from poor posture habits, that causes inflammation and pain, not a life-changing injury.
Exercise worsens back pain symptoms.
False. This common misconception is the most dangerous because it can potentially make back pain worse. How? While back pain shouldn’t be exacerbated by strenuous activity, it certainly doesn’t benefit from prolonged periods of rest. Lying and sitting down for extended amounts of time only stiffens and inflames hurt muscles more, while low-impact exercise helps to address swelling and speed up recovery.
The American College of Physicians updated clinical guidelines for the treatment of low back pain to recommend low-impact exercise (motor control exercises, yoga, tai chi, etc) as well as spinal manipulation, acupuncture, massage, and superficial heat before the use of NSAIDs, opioids, and other painkillers.
Back pain worsens with age.
False. Conditions commonly associated with aging like osteoporosis and arthritis are often linked with increased back pain, however, that is not completely true. Most reports of back pain are in middle-aged adults (35 to 55 years of age), and seniors can retain back flexibility and strength for a long time with a healthy diet and exercise.
While some degeneration of the spine and joints is expected as you age, it can only slightly increase your risk for injury, not ensure you will develop chronic back pain. Maintaining a healthy pain-free back is best achieved as you age by practicing good posture habits, getting regular quality sleep, and exercising to stretch and strengthen back and core muscles.
Prolonged sitting doesn’t affect my health if I have good posture.
False. Prolonged sitting, even with great posture, still places undue stress and pressure on the spinal column, and especially the lower back. As the technology industry has transformed the American workforce into one which largely spends most of the day sitting at a computer, the health consequences of extended sedentary behavior are become more and more apparent. A recent analysis even found that people who sit for more than 60 to 90 minutes at a time, whether they exercise or not, have increased risk for early death.
Solutions to prolonged sitting include utilizing standing desks when possible, as well as prioritizing breaks for standing, stretching, and walking to boost blood flow. Seat pillows and lumbar cushions provide back support when sitting for extended periods of time, like on car trips; and posture braces can support better spinal alignment for the times you are required to sit at work.
Back pain only results from physical strain.
False. As with many other symptoms including headache, chest pain, and insomnia, stress can be the culprit when it comes to nagging back pain. Stress and other feelings of anxiety, frustration, and depression can manifest themselves in rather physical ways including muscle tension in your back and neck. In fact, the American Institute of Stress even lists back pain, neck aches, and muscle spasms as one of the most common physical symptoms of stress.
Stress from work, family dysfunction, and other relationships constricts blood vessels and triggers the release of cortisol in your body. This can cause muscles to tighten up and become achy. Stress also leads to unhealthy behaviors which can worsen back pain like avoiding physical activity, slouching and slumping, and eating a poor diet.
Physical labor jobs cause the greatest incidence of back injury.
False. You might think that heavy lifting jobs like warehouse stocking, airport baggage handling, and working construction might incur the highest rates of back injury, but you would be surprised. Turns out nurses have more than 7 times the incidence rate of back injury than any other industry according to the Office of Safety and Health Administration. Patient handling with lifting, transferring, and repositioning leads to tens of thousands of back injuries in nursing a year, not to mention tons of missed work days.
Nurses often have to lift patients that are over 200 and 300 pounds, whether it’s to transfer them to a gurney or help them up off the floor. New policies and regulations requires hospitals to better train nurses on proper lifting techniques, as well as invest in helpful technologies and assistive devices which can handle the lifting for nursing staff – these include motorized transfer devices and hoyer lifts.