By: Lisa Harlow, WEA Trust Care Manager
Did you know that low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the 2010 global burden of diseases study? In America, nearly half the workforce reports having back pain symptoms yearly. There are a variety of reasons that back pain affects so many people, but a key factor is our culture surrounding back pain. The following five myths are examples of the misinformation loop that leads many people to improperly treat their back pain.
Myth 1: Exercise causes back pain.
Fact: Exercise can help treat and prevent back pain.
Exercise is often falsely attributed to back pain and back injury. Strenuous exercise that is done incorrectly can lead to back injury but, overall, exercise is essential to keep backs healthy. Strengthening the muscles in the back, stomach and legs better supports the spine. This means less pressure on the spinal discs, which is a common cause of back pain. According to a 2005 study, the most effective exercise for back pain is simply exercise that is done consistently. Stretching and muscle-strengthening exercises are the most effective individual exercises. Walking regularly is one of the simplest exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the spine.
Myth 2: Bed rest is an effective way to treat back pain.
Fact: Bed rest will often make back pain worse.
Sometimes back pain, especially when it is constant, can make us feel helpless. Many think bed rest can alleviate the symptoms. This is wrong! Lying in bed will typically weaken the muscles that support the back. When these weakened muscles combine with the stiffness that comes from long periods in bed, back pain will often worsen. Bed rest may relieve an acute episode of severe back pain, but try to limit the bed rest to only a few hours a day and for no more than two days. Many people are afraid to move during an episode of back pain, but gentle movement is healing.
Myth 3: Back pain requires prescription medication to treat.
Fact: Some of the best treatments are over-the-counter meds, ice and heat.
If you are experiencing back pain, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen can dramatically help reduce pain (check with your doctor to make sure NSAIDs are safe for you). Ice and heat are also effective for treating back pain. Ice should be applied as close to the initial onset of pain as possible. After a few days of ice, a hot compress should be used for brief periods to help loosen and soothe the back. By properly using NSAIDs, ice and heat to treat back pain, many people can relieve their pain without prescription medication.
Myth 4: Surgery is the best way to treat back pain.
Fact: Surgery is only necessary in a very small number of back pain cases.
Back surgery is often looked to as a quick fix or easy solution to back pain. This view is misguided, as spine surgery is only the best option in about 1% of cases, after conservative treatment options have failed. Ninety percent of all back pain cases can be resolved by using the conservative treatments that I’ve discussed. If you exhaust conservative options, talk to your doctor about your next step.
Myth 5: Back pain is a normal part of aging.
Fact: You don’t have to accept back pain.
It is true that our backs can become more prone to some types of injuries as we age. Yet, for the majority of people, back pain does not need to be part of aging or day-to-day life. With self-care and conservative treatments like NSAIDs, ice, heat and regular exercise, most people can relieve their back pain with some time and get back to enjoying life.