Low Back Pain Myths: Back Pain Zombies Die, Die!

Our title is silly, but back pain is no joke! Did you know that nearly 8 out of 10 people will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime? In the United States, back pain: 

  • is the #1 reason for a visit to an orthopedist 

  • is the #2 reason for a visit to a primary care doctor 

  • is the #3 reason for surgical procedures 

  • is the #5 reason for hospitalization 

  • in America has a direct annual cost of $40 billion, with indirect costs—lost wages & productivity, legal & insurance overhead, and impact on family—at well over $100 billion. 

So we know that back pain is real and very common, but why is there so much bad advice on 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 or MRIs are not needed, and instead only 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 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, its root causes, what’s making it worse (and things to avoid), and we will 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 like dizziness, nausea, liver damage, and even addiction. But the main problem is that they mask your pain rather than addressing the underlying issue of healing damaged tissue. Our approach is different: figuring out what’s causing the pain, minimizing it, 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, 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 

  • Lost wages 

  • Creating an "illness" mindset (surprisingly a key recovery factor: 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 customized 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 pain triggers, receiving chiropractic adjustments, staying active and building strength, and learning how to move and sit safely while recovering recovering.

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

Funny Yoga.jpeg

FACT: 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 trying to heal. 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.

Ready to tackle your low back pain with evidence-based care? Schedule today!