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Back Pain Myths

Back pain 101: Debunking the common myths surrounding legendary pain

glebe chiropractic clinic + massage therapy centre back pain blog post

Low back pain (LBP) is the leading cause of disability worldwide and the most common complaint treated by chiropractors. Lifetime prevalence of low back pain has been estimated as high as 84%! Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, like back pain, are disorders affecting the muscles, bones, and joints. Every year in Ontario, MSK conditions cost over $2 billion dollars in medical expenditures. Back pain is a complex problem. It is a  significant contributing factor to long-term disability, absence from work, and a large economic burden to all Canadians.


Back pain is among one of the most common reasons prompting patients to seek medical attention. There are many treatment options for those suffering from back pain, which include: chiropractic, massage therapy, exercise, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Though many non-medicinal options are effective in managing and potentially eliminating pain, few Canadians are exploring these treatments.


Most people experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Because it’s so common, you may have heard many theories about what causes low back pain and how to fix it. But do you have the right facts? This week’s blog post debunks common low back pain myths.


Myth #1: When back pain strikes, rest is best


In the first few days after an initial injury or with the onset of back pain, avoiding aggravating activities may help to relieve pain. A short period of bed rest (1-2 days) may help reduce acute back pain in some cases, but it is not the solution to the problem. There is very strong evidence that keeping active and gradually returning to all regular daily activities (including work and exercise) is important on the road to full recovery. In contrast, prolonged bed rest is unhelpful and is associated with higher levels of pain, poorer prognosis, greater disability, longer recovery and long absence from work.


Myth #2: If I’m in a lot of pain, there must be a lot of damage


Pain is a sensation that acts as a warning system for your brain. Many things can cause that warning system to go off. MSK experts, like your chiropractor, can help you figure out if your pain is related to your joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves. It’s important to remember that intense pain doesn’t necessarily mean that there is significant damage.


Myth #3: A good night’s sleep will get rid of my pain


When someone has pain, a good night’s sleep can be hard to get. Most people don’t realize that problems sleeping can actually be a factor associated with low back pain. In the same way that poor sleep can increase our stress levels, cause your immune system to be compromised, feel run down and cranky, it can also cause or prolong back pain. Good bedtime routines and proper sleep hygiene can be very helpful in reducing pain.


Myth #4: Heat will help soothe the pain


Most people believe that a hot bath reduces back pain. The reality is that even though it may sound soothing, getting into a hot bath when muscles are inflamed can make matters worse by increasing the inflammatory response in an acute injury. Use ice, not heat, to soothe a new episode of back pain. In the case of back injury, the inflammation may not be visible in the way swelling of a sprained ankle might be. A good rule is to remember the word inflammation includes the word “flame” because where there is heat; there is inflammation and pain. It is better to apply ice to an injury for 15 to 20-minute intervals, during the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury.


Myth #5: I should avoid exercises if I have a history of low back pain


Exercise is good for your body and one of the best ways to safeguard against back pain. Many people with pain are afraid of exercise and avoid it out of fear they will make things worse. Most of the time this belief is not true. Regular exercise helps to keep your body fit and healthy, and actually reduces pain and discomfort. It relaxes muscle tension, helps mood and strengthens the immune system once started gradually. Your chiropractor has the proper training in assessing and treating low back pain and can provide the proper exercises to get your stronger safely while decreasing your risk of future injury.


Myth #6: Stress and emotions are not related to my back pain


Back pain can be triggered following changes in life stress, mood or anxiety levels. In the same way, stress is linked to other health conditions like cold sores, irritable bowel syndrome, and fatigue, your emotional health can impact your back health too. Stress and anxiety can cause physical changes in the body, which can add mechanical stress in the spine, joints, and muscles. Stress can negatively impact people’s activity levels and sedentary behaviour. Regular physical activity keeps the spine mobile and less receptive to general aches and pains. Lastly, how we feel can influence the amount of pain we feel. Those with anxiety tend to experience physical sensations more than those without anxiety. So mild back pain could feel more severe and be harder to ignore.


Myth #7: Medication is the most effective way to treat back pain


Canada is the second largest consumer of opioids in the world, with LBP and MSK conditions as key drivers in our country’s current opioid crisis. Despite better options in treating MSK pain, over 5 million Canadians are turning to potentially harmful opioids and painkillers as a first step to managing their frustrating daily muscle and joint pain. If ignored or treated improperly, pain risks becoming chronic.


Recent clinical practice guidelines in Canada and the United States have been made to all health practitioners, particularly medical doctors, about the effective treatment of low back pain. These guidelines have put in the forefront the role that chiropractors can play in helping to end the growing problem that back pain has become in our society. Overall, the new guidelines emphasize conservative treatment. First-line therapy for back pain should incorporate non-drug therapies such as spinal manipulation and strongly discourage the use of opioids. As experts in MSK health, evidence suggests chiropractors can help Canadians better manage their MSK pain while also reducing the use of unnecessary painkillers


If back pain is keeping you on the sidelines of life, try chiropractic before reaching for medication. Our chiropractors are pleased to play a role in helping our patients achieve their health goals, big or small. A healthy spine contributes to a pain-free, active and healthy lifestyle. If you, or someone you know, have questions about low back pain, contact us and schedule an appointment to get the correct answer to your nagging back problem.


If you enjoyed this week’s blog post and would like to read more on MSK health and chiropractic, be sure to subscribe to receive notifications about our weekly blogs. Each week, we provide a new post full of practical health information aimed to educate, empower and engage you on your healthcare journey!

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