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I have a go at tackling some of the common myths around back pain!

Welcome to my first blog! What better way to start than with a complaint we see very frequently… and that is back pain! 80% of us will experience at least one episode of this in our lifetime. It can be extremely painful, restrictive and frustrating.

Our pain levels and rate of recovery can be altered dramatically by our thoughts, feelings and beliefs surrounding the pain. We often believe that there are things ‘we should not do’ for the fear that it will make the pain worse. Additionally, looking on the internet or asking a friend can often end up with some ‘myths’ surrounding back pain to circulate. I am here to share the most common ones with you. 

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) published these 4 myth busters a little while ago and I feel it highlights excellently some of the things I hear daily. 

MOVING WILL MAKE MY BACK PAIN WORSE:
Bending, lifting and twisting are commonly avoided by individuals with back pain. Whilst I can understand the fear, these movements are perfectly normal for the human body to do. When you have experienced pain for a long time, these can seem daunting. With the right guidance, movements can be re-introduced and progressed. Although sitting/resting may seem safe to do, it is crucial to keep yourself active.

I SHOULD AVOID EXERCISE – ESPECIALLY WEIGHT TRAINING:
Exercise can be anything from walking to lifting heavy weights in the gym. The key is to find the right balance for you. Research has suggested the most effective way to manage back pain is with a graduated and personalised exercise regime. And yes, if appropriate, weights can be used in this! So whether it is Pilates, walking, swimming, cycling or Yoga – find something that works for you. Over time, your back will thank you.

A SCAN WILL SHOW ME EXACTLY WHAT IS WRONG:
Hmm, probably the most common myth I hear from my patients. Sometimes, yes it will. But most of the time, sadly it won’t.

 Back pain can be due to many different factors – many of which will not show on a scan. This can include: loading of the spine during different activities, muscle function and bio-mechanics, thoughts, fears, beliefs, stress, anxiety etc….. it is a long list!

A study in 2015 (Nakashima et al) placed a group of non-symptomatic patients through an MRI scan and found that 80% of 50 year olds had disc degeneration, 60% of 50 year olds had disc bulges and almost 40% of 20 year olds had evidence of both. And none had any neck or back pain!! It is a normal process our bodies go through as we get older.

MRI scans have their place but we should be cautious to not over use them and try to rely on them to help diagnose serious pathologies such as a fracture, tumour or infection.

PAIN = DAMAGE: This is partly true, as pain is our inbuilt mechanism to alert our body to a threat. However, when we experience pain for number of weeks or months, the reasons why we experience pain and how we process it can change. As a Physiotherapist, I aim to try and take a holistic approach and look at all lifestyle aspects to try and understand why you may be in pain.

Annnd a few extras!

You cannot find anything ‘out of place’. Our body is an extremely strong structure and it is not possible for joints to move out of position unless there has been a significant trauma or fracture.

‘Clicking’ the back does not put anything back into place. The click you hear is the release of small air bubbles that build up in the fluid that sits between our joints. It can feel very therapeutic, but it does not alter the joint position in any way.

Discs cannot ‘slip’ out of place. They are held in place by very strong ligaments. The pain you experience from discs is usually inflammatory from an excessive amount of loading. With the correct rehabilitation, exercise and advice, this can be improved and resolved.

Thanks for reading!

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Wimpole Street Physiotherapy Clinic

5 Upper Wimpole Street
Marylebone, London
W1G 6BP

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