Back Pain Myth Busters

Back Pain

Low back pain is a familiar complaint. According to research, it’s the second reason — after the common cold — people see their doctors. “Despite it affecting so many, there is misinformation about it and how best to treat it,” says Youngsun Kim, PT, DPT, OCS, Director of Rehabilitation Services at the Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Institute at Palmdale Regional Medical Center. He helps clear up a few myths below.

Myth — “I am in pain so I need to rest.”

Research strongly opposes this belief. In fact, those who tend to avoid activities due to pain have a higher risk of their pain lasting longterm. It’s not a good idea to take part in and repeat activities that increase pain. It’s important, however, to continue being active in ways that do not make the pain worse. Research says to rest no more than two days at a time. It’s better to get out of bed and do something enjoyable.

Myth — “My pain is not getting better, so something is seriously wrong.”

In most cases, back pain comes without a serious underlying issue. Low back pain is often nonspecific, meaning there’s no structural damage.

Myth — “I need to have an MRI to diagnose the problem.”

Research has shown that problems detected on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests do not predict who has back pain, regardless of how long someone has had it. As many as 80 percent of people who have no complaints of back pain show spinal disc problems on their MRIs. An MRI is only needed if you have neurological symptoms such as a foot dropping or dragging, or changes in bladder and bowel function, or if conservative therapy has failed to improve your pain.

Myth — “Back pain is normal because of my age.”

There are some normal changes that aging will bring. These include spinal joint space narrowing and thinning of the discs. The highest incidence of low back pain, however, occurs between ages 35 and 55. Surgeons and physical therapists recommend not resigning yourself to low back pain as something that’s expected. Recovery is achievable at almost any age.