Back pain is a troubling problem for many adults. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about the causes of and treatments for back pain that seems to permeate the minds of Americans. From the incessant warnings of your well-meaning mother to stop slouching to the inevitability of surgery, here are 7 common back pain myths debunked:
Myth #1: You just need to sit up straight.
Your mom wasn't totally wrong; hunching can certainly be bad for your back. But the opposite is true too. Sitting up straight for too long without a break can also cause strain. If you work in an office setting, make sure your chair is at a height where your knees are at a 90 degree angle, your feet can rest flat on the floor, and you have proper lower back support. Make sure to stand up, stretch, and take a quick walk several times a day to keep from getting stiff or causing injury.
Myth #2: You need the firmest mattress possible.
Back pain sufferers can actually experience greater pain if their mattress is too firm because it puts more pressure on heavy points like the hips and shoulders. Conversely, a mattress that is too soft could lack the support necessary to allow proper movement. In both cases, the person wakes up stiff and in pain. Studies show that a medium-firm mattress offers an ideal amount of support to help prevent further injury.
Myth #3: Back pain is caused by exercise.
A survey by the North American Spine Society revealed this as the number one misconception about back pain. Sure, if you aren't active all week and then try to win your town’s annual mud-run, you could easily experience injury. But regular physical activity, including stretching, core-strengthening exercises and cardio, can actually help prevent back pain by preparing your body for the shock of everyday movements and especially more intense workouts.
Myth #4: Back pain is an unavoidable side-effect of getting older.
Getting older doesn't mean life has to be painful. While there are aches and pains that come with an aging body, the advanced treatment options available today – both non-surgical and surgical – mean back pain is not something you have to live with. A back pain specialist can offer a solution to fit your individual situation so you can maintain an active lifestyle for years to come.
Myth #5: Back pain can appear out of nowhere.
Back pain sufferers often claim one wrong twist or simply bending over caused their injury. But that event was likely the result of many other factors. Overdoing a workout, using poor technique while lifting heavy objects, bad posture, and especially weight gain can all put strain on the spine and lead to seemingly “out of nowhere” spasms. Sometimes the issue is more serious, as with disc and joint disorders. A spine doctor can help pinpoint the source of your pain.
Myth #6: A hot bath can bring relief.
There are few things as relaxing as sinking into a nice warm bathtub, but doing so after injuring your back could actually make your situation worse by increasing inflammation. Doctors recommend applying ice to the area for 20 minutes at a time during the first two or three days in order to decrease inflammation and pain. One caveat: people who suffer from chronic back pain without inflammation can find relief with a warm bath. Play it safe and check with your doctor for the best treatment.
Myth #7: If I see a doctor, I’ll probably have surgery.
Most people will experience some degree of back pain in their lifetime, but the overwhelming majority will find relief through simple changes like exercise, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines, physical therapy, or even just by waiting it out. In fact, spine surgery is only recommended for a very small percentage of patients after all other methods of treatment have proven futile. These patients often suffer from more degenerative spine or joint issues that cause chronic pain. Whether you understand the source of your back pain or not, a fear of surgery should never prevent you from seeking medical help.