Apart from death and taxes, there’s almost nothing more universally dreaded than lower back pain. As many as 80% of adults will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives, and almost a fifth of those afflicted will develop chronic pain lasting longer than 12 weeks.
But despite how common lower back pain is, there are a number of stubborn myths surrounding its causes and best treatments. Far from benign old wives’ tales, these misconceptions can make the difference between pain and relief for those with lower back problems.
Whether you’re currently suffering from lower back pain or you’re simply concerned about developing it in the future, the first step toward a healthy back is knowing the truth about its symptoms, causes, and treatments. Take a look at these 9 common myths about lower back pain—and if any look familiar, forget them.
It’s true that acute back pain can come on suddenly and without warning, often triggered by a particular movement like bending or twisting. But except in cases of traumatic injury, back pain doesn’t work like flipping a light switch. Back pain—even when it comes on suddenly—is almost always the result of long-term issues like poor conditioning, weight gain, or muscular degeneration.
Some people think that back pain is a natural part of growing older, like crow’s feet or graying hair. This is simply not the case. Barring injury or disease, there’s no reason an otherwise healthy adult shouldn’t be able to avoid back pain even well into old age. Regular exercise, good posture, and other healthy habits can all help.
Back pain is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s not significant. Left unaddressed, the causes of back pain are likely to get worse before they get better. What’s more, chronic or recurring back pain can sometimes be symptomatic of other, more serious conditions like autoimmune diseases or even cancer. Don’t panic over every ache and pain, but don’t ignore them either.
It’s certainly true that an active lifestyle, especially one that includes conditioning of the muscles and ligaments surrounding the spine, is among the best defenses against developing lower back pain. But too many people think that they should “take it easy” once back pain occurs. In fact, physical activity is essential. Stretching and strengthening exercises under the direction of a doctor or physical therapist is beneficial for those suffering from both acute and chronic back discomfort.
On the other hand, despite its many benefits both for the back and overall health, physical activity is no guarantee against back pain. Even those in excellent physical condition can develop back pain due to strain, injury, or other causes.
According to folk wisdom, sleeping on a hard mattress is one of the best ways to prevent or cure back pain. Some people will even recommend sleeping on the floor! Unfortunately, hard mattresses can actually exacerbate back problems. Mattresses that are too firm will not offer proper spinal support and can cause misalignment over time. Most experts recommend medium-firm mattresses for optimal back support.
Stepping into a hot bath after a long, stressful day can be a great way to unwind, but it’s not always the best way to address lower back pain. In the case of acute pain accompanied by inflammation, a hot bath can actually make things worse by increasing the body’s inflammatory response. For acute back pain, an ice pack applied for about 15 minutes is better than a hot bath.
With the epidemic of abuse and addiction to painkillers in the news every day, it’s only natural that many people are skeptical of taking prescription painkillers. That’s no reason to avoid medical treatment for back pain, though. Depending on the cause and severity of the problem, a doctor may or may not prescribe opioids or other painkillers. Exercise, physical therapy, or mild anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are more likely to be recommended in most cases.
Similarly, many people will avoid seeing a doctor or other specialist for their back pain because they don’t want to get surgery. But going under the knife is usually a last resort for treating back pain, and a variety of other non-invasive options are available.
In addition to exercise and over-the-counter remedies, chiropractic care, acupuncture, Active Release Techniques®, and Graston Technique® therapy are all options for the non-invasive treatment of lower back pain.
If you’re suffering from lower back pain in Connecticut, Dr. Michael Orefice at Active Health in Milford specializes in sports medicine, chiropractic care, and acupuncture to treat soft tissue and musculoskeletal injuries and problems. Get in touch today to learn more or request an appointment.