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Myths About Back Pain

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 10 Mar 2010 |
Back Pain Lifting Back Pain Surgery

There are myths and stories around every medical condition there is - and these can sometimes prevent people from getting the help they need. Let’s explore seven of the myths about back pain…

1. Back Pain Means Surgery

Only a very small percentage of people with back pain will ever need back surgery – in fact, around 90% of back pain will go away in one to three months without requiring surgery. Even significant back injuries, such as herniated (slipped) discs can recover without surgery. A few very serious back disorders will require surgery to stabilise a damaged area or take the pressure off nerves, to reduce pain and prevent further damage.

2. Back Pain Needs Bed Rest

A long period of bed rest doesn’t help back pain – in fact, it can make it worse (see ‘Is Bed Rest Good for Back Pain?’). The best thing is to try to get back to normal activity as soon as possible, as lying down for long periods can make joints and muscles stiffer and even make the muscles weaker.

3. Back Pain Never Gets Better

Most back pain will get better between a few days and a few months. It is important to take advice from a doctor for treatment, and an occupational therapist should be able to help with any work-related concerns, such as how soon to return to work, and how to set up desks and chairs to reduce existing pain and prevent future attacks.

Some back pain will be long term, particularly if it relates to a severe injury or an inherited condition, but even this should be able to be managed through a combination of painkillers, anti-inflammatories and drug treatment, careful exercise and care with sitting, standing and lifting.

4. People with Bad Backs Shouldn’t Exercise

Gentle exercise is very important in the treatment of pain and keeping fit helps prevent back pain long-term. Stretching exercises and swimming can be especially helpful.

5. Back Pain Needs Time Off Work

When the pain is very bad, it can be a good idea to take time off work. However, the longer someone takes off work, the less likely he or she is to return. Being back at work can be important, as keeping active will help back pain get better. Staying at home is very isolating and can increase the risk of stress, anxiety and depression, all of which can make back pain worse.

6. People With Bad Backs Shouldn’t Lift Anything

People with serious back injuries should avoid lifting very heavy things, but people with any level of back pain should keep moving as normal, and can still lift things. Everyone, with or without back pain, should be careful and learn how to lift things properly, keeping knees bent and the back straight, and avoiding twisting, to prevent back pain recurring or getting any worse.

7. Sitting Up Straight Prevents Back Pain

Good posture does help prevent back pain – but sitting up too straight puts a strain on the back. The ideal position is leaning back slightly with a gentle curve in the back and both feet flat on the floor.

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