My favourite back pain myths (part 1).

Surgery will fix me.”

Surgery is sometimes a necessary dependant on diagnosis. However, you should not think it is just a quick fix. Many of our aches and pains come from our actions and environment. If this is not addressed first then it will not be long until the pain rears its ugly head again.

Here is an example. Let us say the pain starts when you are sitting down for a long time. The pain is starting because your muscles and joints are getting fatigued due the position they are in. The fix for this would be simple: do not sit in the position for long enough for the pain to begin. Then, gradually increase the time in that position. This will allow the muscles and joints to adapt and become resilient.

Instead you keep doing the activity that aggravates the problem and do not give the tissues enough time to adapt, the problem gets worse and worse as the muscles and joints become more and more sensitive. The pain is now felt during other activities and is sometimes constant. Surgery now seems like the only option however there are still less risky choices.

If you are struggling and think surgery is the only option, please send me an email I will be more than happy to help you through it. Another tip is to read Dr Stuart McGill’s book Back Mechanic shown below. I think his virtual surgery is brilliant.

I have back pain because my parents did; it’s genetic.

I put this in here because BC (Before Covid), I helped a patient who believed his pain was genetic. His pain was triggered by sitting down, he sat down most of the day as he worked at a desk and then played video games all night after work. Turns out his muscles were sensitive and fatigued. By changing his habits along with some therapy to desensitise the area he was able to get rid of the pain. Now, genetics can play a part in what we are less resilient too but, in this case, it was his environment causing the pain. He referred his father to the clinic with a similar problem, who also worked at a desk and played hours and hours of video games. Both had great results, if they go back to the lifestyle they had before the pain, their issues have a good chance of returning.

“I need a scan to diagnose my back pain.

This is one that frequently comes up. Scans can help clinicians see lots of important things like tumours and fractures. I send patients for scans when they are not improving as expected or if the symptoms match conditions out of my scope. For most of us, using functional tests are more beneficial than a picture (scans cannot show pain) as most problems come from faulty loading and flawed movement patterns. Identifying the fault and correcting it is a lot quicker and gives better results than a scan.

“My back pain comes from my tight hamstrings.

Tight hamstrings are rarely a direct cause of low back pain. The hamstrings usually tighten secondary to back pain. Stretching can feel good and provide short term relief but it is not a fix. I stretch my patients either for the feel-good factor or because it is limiting them from moving correctly. Fixing the pain starts with desensitising the tissues by temporarily avoiding the trigger (by avoiding the movement/posture that makes it hurt) and through therapy, improving core stability and learning/adjusting movement patterns (usually using glutes and hips rather than the low back).

“I just need bed rest.”

Bed rest is possibly one of the worst things you can do, I am glad this one has somewhat fallen out of fashion. When we lie down the discs in between the spinal bones fill with water, this is one of the reasons our backs feel stiff in the morning. 8 hours is healthy but more than that can cause excessive swelling which can increase your pain. Keep doing as much pain free movement as you can to speed up your recovery.

Hope this blog has helped you, part 2 of this series will be up next week. Let me know if you have any questions down below. Thanks for reading!

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