Updated: May 6, 2021
In 2014, back pain was identified as the leading cause of disability in the world with 1 in 10 people suffering from back pain in their lifetime. The more you understand about the causes of back pain and how to effectively treat it, the more likely you are to remain healthy, active, and pain free. To help you on your journey toward a pain free future we have compiled a list of the most common myths surrounding back pain and what you can start today to reduce your risk of future back pain episodes.
Myth 1: Back pain is cured by stretching/yoga/Pilates.
While some stretches may provide temporary relief from back pain they will not cure the origin of your back pain. In fact, some stretches may even increase your pain sensitivity and increase the frequency of pain experienced. For example, the yoga poses knees to chest (a.k.a. apanasana), single-leg knee to chest (a.k.a. pavanamuktasana), and reclined twist (a.k.a. jathara parivaratanasana), often give temporary pain relief but ultimately increase lumbar spine instability and aggrevation of the vertebral discs. Another example of an unhelpful stretch is touching your toes with your legs straight. This stretch will often stress the lumbar spine into extreme flexion and place stress on the sciatic nerve. Therefore, when reaching down to pick something up, try hinging at you hips and/or lifting one leg off the floor to maintain a healthy curve in your lower back. A good exercise from yoga is the cat/camel pose which involves cycling between rounding and arching your back while on all fours. This is a very stable position to help losen up any stiffness without placing undue stress on your spine. Nerve flossing (a.k.a. kicking your chin) can also be a useful exercise to help ease sciatic nerve irritation. Research shows that stretching alone does not affect your range of motion in the long-term and healthy mobility/flexibility comes more from moving well and moving often in your daily activities.
Myth 2: Good desk ergonomics and good posture will prevent back pain.
Every office has an occupational health department that likes to sell the benefits of good desk ergonomics. For those who are new to this term, desk ergonomics is the act of setting up with your desk and chair in such a way that places the least amount of stress on your body when working for long periods of time. However, here in lies the problem. Any position, whether it is slouched in your chair or perfectly upright can be detrimental to your spinal health and lead to back pain. This is because you are not built to stay inactive for hours at a time in any one position. A better idea is to move between a variety of working positions throughout the day and include regular breaks from your desk to walk a little. For example, alternate between sitting and standing, alternate between slouching and sitting upright, and walking away from your desk (to maybe fill up a water bottle or touch base with a colleague etc.) every 30 - 60 minutes. There are two phrases that I like which summarises this concept the best, they are your best working position is your next one and motion is lotion.
Myth 3: The cause of your back pain can be seen on an x-ray or MRI.
Medical imaging are very limited on what they are able to detect and the source of your back pain can often be missed/misdiagnosed. These images of your back will show changes to your spine that may or may not relate to the cause of your back pain and so making assumptions based on them alone is problematic. For example, your vetebral discs can often show signs of bulging or loss in height that naturally occur over time. Therefore, saying a bulging disc from a medical image is the source of your pain is guess work at best. The source of your back pain can more accurately be determined by screening set movement patterns to determine which do and do not trigger pain. It is continually repeating flawed movement patterns that leads to back pain issues and why addressing these movements are more effective than diagnosing pain from medical imaging and prescribing rest.
Myth 4: Your 6-pack muscles are your core and they protect your spine.
Your ‘core’ muscles are all of the muscles of the trunk between your shoulder girdles to your hip joints and they all need to work together to help stabilise your spine as you move. The most notable of these muscles are:
Rectus Abdominus (a.k.a. the ‘6-Pack’)
Inner & Outer Obliques
Transverse Abdominus (a.k.a. ‘Nature’s Weight Belt’)