Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, and a condition that affects 80% of people in their lifetime. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding back pain and how to manage it. Here are 8 things you need to know if you have back pain.
- More than 90% of back pain is caused by dysfunction to joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves
Back pain is often mechanical and non-specific in nature, meaning it comes from irritation and dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system. Although back pain can feel quite severe, it is very rarely caused by things like cancer or infection. Conservative measures such as education on what is causing your pain, and reassurance that it will improve are two of the most useful ways for healthcare providers to guide patients through their back pain.
2. Not everything that hurts us is harmful
Fear of exercise is quite common in people that have experienced long-term pain, especially if exercise has caused pain in the past. In fact, there is a term that describes this phenomenon known as “kinesiophobia.” This creates a cycle where people experience pain and are less inclined to exercise, but movement is exactly what is needed to overcome the pain. In this case, some level of hurt may be necessary for full recovery, as the brain can begin to mix up signals and interpret information as painful even when there is no tissue damage. A chiropractor, physiotherapist or personal trainer can provide guidance on distinguishing hurt from harm so you can be confident that you are moving in a way that is safe.
3. Pain that you started experiencing yesterday is very different from pain that you have had for many months or years
Acute pain, or pain that has been present for a few days (feeling sore after that first game of golf for the season) is a time-limited situation. It tends to be driven by inflammation, resolves quickly, and responds rapidly to care. Pain is a lot more complex when it is persistent. Living with chronic pain (any pain that has lasted longer than 3-6 months) is strongly linked to mental and emotional health, sleep disturbance, and negative behavioural change. Pain interferes with your quality of life and begins to affect everything that you do. For this reason chronic pain requires a holistic approach that takes into consideration the way that pain is impacting your life. A mind-body approach is best.
4. There are well-researched factors that influence your chances of recovering from back pain
While there is some truth that our genetics can impact our risk for developing back pain, there are many factors within our control that reduce the risk, or give us a better chance of making a strong recovery if we do experience back pain. Fear of persistent pain actually decreases your chances of successfully healing back pain which is why education and reassurance are so important. You are strong and resilient and your body was designed to adapt and heal.
5. X-rays and MRIs don’t always give us the answers
In fact, there are very limited situations where imaging studies provide clinically useful information. Other times, they come back normal, or lead us down a rabbit hole of blaming the pain on something anatomical that has little to no association with the person’s pain. The majority of the time, a thorough history and physical exam tell us everything we need to know about a person’s pain. If there are red flags that alert us to something more serious as a cause of the pain, imaging may be indicated.
6. The hips and pelvis are closely linked to low back pain
These tissues are all in the same area and work closely together. If there is an issue with the hip, it will often refer pain into the low back. Pelvic joint pain is often mistaken as hip pain and involves dysfunction of the sacroiliac joints. When this region is involved in back pain, the buttock muscles can become tender and hip mobility exercises can be quite helpful in relieving pain.
7. What we do day in an day out can have a much greater impact on pain than things that happened to us years ago
We may want to blame that car accident that we were in 10 years ago as the source of the pain, but more often than not, it is the activities we engage in on a daily basis that are impacting how we feel now. If your work is sedentary and you are sitting at a desk for 40 hours a week, this likely isn’t helping. If you are burnt out, stressed out, and not sleeping well, this likely isn’t helping. We can’t go back in time and undo the injuries and stressors we have faced in the past, but we can make some changes to how we are presently living to better support health and aid in pain recovery.
8. Prescription medication is not the solution – conservative care is the safest and most effective treatment
Conservative care such as patient education, reassurance, rest, ice, physical activity, and manual therapy are among the safest and most effective treatments for mechanical back pain. Chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage therapy, osteopathy and acupuncture are all excellent options. Look for a healthcare provider that you resonate with who helps you to feel seen, heard, and understood – this will go a long way in your healing journey.
Looking for more information on how you can manage your back pain safely and effectively? Check out my book Back to Wellness: A mind-body approach to managing your back pain, which dives into all of the topics covered in this article and provides a framework for you to overcome your back pain.