Myths about Back Pain

1. Rest cures back pain

Actually, in all but the most serious cases, sufferers of back pain recover much more quickly when staying as active as possible. Bedrest is worse than useless and most patients are advised to stick as closely as possible to their normal daily activities.

2. Taking pain killers masks the pain and leads to more damage.

Most pain is not helpful and there is little point suffering it if you don’t have to! Taking painkillers or anti-inflammatories at the recommended dose and frequency and staying active is a much better route to a speedy recovery than losing sleep and getting depressed. It is easier to prevent pain from building up than to treat it once it’s there.

3. Back pain should be treated with heat.

Not necessarily. If you sprained your ankle you’d apply icepacks so why is a sprained back any different? If you suspect that there is any actual damage to the tissues in your back then icing for a few minutes every few hours is more likely to help than a hot water bottle. It is especially important not to apply heat if you are taking anti-inflammatories ( e.g. ibuprofen, Diclofenac) as it will counteract the effects of the medication. Your osteopath can advise you what to do.

4. Back pain happens because bones ‘move out of place’.

The bones of your spine are very firmly attached together by a web of tough ligaments that only allow slight bending in every direction. These are designed to preserve the alignment of the spine and protect the delicate spinal cord that is contained within the bony tube of the spine. Unless you suffer a major trauma the bones are likely to stay put!

5. Osteopaths ‘click your bones back in’.

See above. In fact the manipulation sometimes used by osteopaths is usually used to free up a joint that has become stiff and to restore normal function. The click you sometimes hear is caused by gas being released into the joint space (the same phenomenon as when people crack their knuckles).

5 More Myths about Back Pain

1. Discs ‘slip ‘out of place.

Discs are the fluid-filled rubbery pads that separate the bones of the spine. In fact, they are ‘glued’ to the bones above and below them and cannot ‘slip’ anywhere.
They can, however, bulge (herniate) and occasionally burst (prolapse) allowing the gel-like inner material to ooze outwards.

2. Disc problems are caused by heavy lifting.

Disc problems in the lumbar spine are often brought on by a combination of bend/lift/twist which exerts maximum pressure on the disc but they can be caused by something as simple as a sneeze or bending forward to lift a cup off a table. It is thought that some people genetically inherit a weakness in the discs so if you wish to avoid problems choose your parents carefully!

3. If you have an episode of back pain it will always recur.

This can happen but is not inevitable. You might want to address the factors that have pre-disposed you to problems. Are you overweight, too sedentary or relatively inflexible? Your osteopath can advise you on the best route to avoiding recurrences.

4. Wearing a back support or corset will prevent back problems.

In fact, the use of back supports has largely been phased out. They limit movement and flexibility and long-term use weakens the muscles of the back and abdomen that provide a natural corset. They also sometimes provide a false sense of security. Should you really be lifting that piano…?

5. Back pain sufferers should sleep on hard surfaces.

Only if you’re more comfortable doing so. Spending a restless night on a board isn’t going to help anyone. Your bed should be supportive and comfortable for you. Steer clear of over-priced “orthopaedic” beds often bought in haste and panic which don’t suit you or your partner. If you have acute back pain which makes it difficult to turn over in bed, try lying on a thick duvet on the floor for a night or two.