Low Back Pain Myths


Our title is silly, but back pain is no joke: nearly eight out of ten people will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime.

In the United States, back pain is:

  • The most common reason for a visit to an orthopedist

  • The second most common reason for a visit to a primary care doctor

  • The third most frequent reason for surgical procedures

  • The fifth most frequent cause of hospitalization

  • In America the direct annual cost is 40 billion dollars, with indirect costs--lost wages and productivity, legal and insurance overhead, and impact on family--at well over 100 billion dollars.

So we know that back pain is real and very common, but why is there so much bad advice about what to do about it? Like zombies, some healthcare myths REFUSE to die (no butter on my burn, Grandma!), and low back pain myths are no exception. We will try to squash them one by one below!

Myth #1: An x-ray or MRI will answer all my questions!

Patient in MRI scanner

Fact: In most cases of low back pain, x-rays/MRIs are not needed, and instead just drive up your costs and scare the heck out of you for no good reason. Just like our faces, our spines get “wrinkles” as we age, but when we see words like “degenerative disc disease” or “spondylosis deformans” we freak out! In fact, the vast majority of people who have never had an episode of low back pain will have “abnormalities” (such as arthritic changes or a degenerative disc) on an imaging test.

The bottom line: just because you’ve got a “wrinkle” doesn’t mean it’s what’s causing your pain. The good news is that we can use a thorough clinical history and hands-on examination to narrow down the source of your pain, the root causes, what’s making it worse (things to avoid), and plan for how we’re going to make it better.

Myth #2: Drugs are the answer for back pain!

Pain Pills for back pain

Fact: Most trips to your primary care or ER doc for low back pain will involve a prescription for the old stand-bys: muscle relaxers and pain meds. Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence that they’re very helpful, and they can lead to other problems: dizziness, nausea, liver damage, and even addiction. But mostly the problem is that they mask your pain rather than addressing the underlying issue: healing the damaged tissue.

Our approach is different: figuring out what’s causing the pain, minimizing pain and preventing further damage while you’re healing, and teaching you how to move safely so you don’t get hurt again. Drugs simply can’t do that.

Myth #3: Lying in bed is my best bet

Bed rest is not good for back pain

Fact: In reality, lying in bed for excessive periods actually causes back pain. In most instances, more than 1 or 2 days of rest can be detrimental to recovery from back pain, potentially leading to increased pain and other adverse results, such as:

  • Muscle atrophy (1% to 1.5% per day)

  • Cardiopulmonary deconditioning (15% loss in 10 days)

  • Bone mineral loss

  • Risk of blood clots

  • Loss of wages

  • Creating an "illness" mindset (this is surprisingly one of the key recovery factors – whether or not you believe that you can get better)

Instead of cashing in those sick days, getting a prompt exam and chiropractic treatment, combined with a customized program of lower back exercises specific to your situation will shorten your down time and get you up and running as fast as possible.

Myth #4: Severe or long-term pain indicates I need back surgery for my back problems.

Avoid back surgery

Fact: Only a tiny proportion of people with low back pain require surgery. Once again, a simple clinical examination is usually sufficient to identify those people with low back pain who should be referred to a surgeon. On average, the long-term results for spinal surgery are no better than with conservative interventions, and the risks are significantly higher.

Most people can be helped with the conservative care we offer at Synergy Chiropractic & Bodywork: identifying their pain triggers, receiving chiropractic adjustments, staying active and building strength, and learning about how to move and sit safely while they’re recovering.

Myth #5: I just need to do more Yoga or Pilates

Truth: While many doctors and therapists will suggest this type of exercise to their patients because of its “therapeutic” properties, studies have not supported these claims and in fact have indicated the opposite. While some poses and movements may be beneficial or feel good at the time, there are components of both exercise systems that will aggravate an individual with back conditions. There is no such thing as an exercise program that is beneficial to all back pain sufferers and to broadly prescribe either yoga or Pilates to a patient with back pain is irresponsible.

Therapeutic exercise must always correlate to the results of a detailed assessment, performed by a trained professional (sadly, this does not include your personal trainer or the internet). It’s just as important to understand which movements and exercises NOT to do, so you’re not hurting yourself while you’re trying to heal yourself. At Synergy Chiropractic & Bodywork, we specialize in these assessments and have an outstanding group of colleagues in physical therapy, personal training, yoga, and Pilates that we work with and refer to when you are ready to make that leap.

Got some healthcare myths you want busted? Contact us.