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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Back Pain

by Specialized Orthopedics September 28, 2016

Understanding Your Back Pain and Recovering Faster

Women with back pain

Photo credit: planetc1 via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Back pain is one of the most common complaints amongst Americans and about 80% of people will experience at least one episode of back pain in their lives. According to the Journal of American Osteopathic Association, in one year total costs associated with LBP in the United states exceed 100 billion dollars, two-thirds of which resulted in lost wages and reduced productivity. Below are 10 things you didn’t know about back pain which may help reduce the statistics stated above and help you recover and understand more about back pain.

1. Back pain is common

A majority of Americans will experience back pain at one point in their lives. Acute back pain is usually a result of sprains or strains and can have a very good outcome if treated right away. Conservative treatment such as physical therapy can help a patient with acute back pain recover fully and it is common patients who seek physical therapy early, will notice a decrease in symptoms and improved function within first 2 weeks.

2. Complete bed rest is not helpful

After an injury, it is smart to avoid aggravating activities initially. However, it is important to return your normal activities gradually and maintain active in order to recover. Complete bed rest can actually cause higher levels of pain, greater disability, and poor recovery. It will also lead to a longer absence from work.

3. High level of intense pain does not necessarily mean lots of damage

Two people with the same injury can feel different amounts of pain. There are many factors attributed to the type and intensity of pain we are feeling including past experiences, fitness level, fear, stress and coping style. For example, a professional boxer may not feel much pain after an injury until later in a quiet environment compared to a sedentary person with the same injury. Another factor that is associated with the amount of pain we are feeling is our nervous system. Our nervous system can become hypersensitive which can cause a person to feel high levels of pain even after an injury is healed. This hypersensitivity can then lead to individuals thinking an increase in pain means more damage, which is not always the case. It is important to be able to differentiate between pain and harm to the back.

4. Diagnostic Imaging is not always needed 

Most people think that getting an MRI is important to determine if something serious is going on with their spine  that is contributing to their back pain. This is not so true. Only a very small percentage of time do scans show something serious is going on. Talking to a healthcare professional such as a physical therapist or orthopedic doctor will help you determine whether or not you really need a scan to help fix the problem. Often times, scans will show degenerative disc disease, bulging discs or arthritic changes, however, this does not mean that those findings are actually causing the back pain. For example, people who have NO complaints of back pain and have had scans may show arthritis, disc herniation and degeneration. Therefore, results of a scan do not always equal the cause of back pain. People who experience back pain are often told that bulging disc, degeneration, and arthritis mean that their back is damaged which leads to further fear and avoidance of activity. When in fact, these changes may just be related to genetics or aging. Again, a scan in most cases won’t always help determine the causes of back pain and won’t help determine a plan of care to treat it. Many times, the therapists at Specialized are able to determine what is going on in your back through certain tests and measures. They will design a treatment plan based on the examination without having a scan.

5. Surgery is very rarely needed

A very small proportion of people with back pain require surgery. Many people with back pain can manage it by being active, understanding about what the pain they feel actually means and identifying the factors that are involved in their pain. In fact, research suggests spinal surgery is not much better in the long term compared to non-surgical intervention such as exercise.

6. Lifting and bending are safe

People think twisting, lifting and bending are dangerous for your back. Yes, it is possible a person can strain their back lifting something awkwardly or lifting a weight more than they usually would. But this does not mean it is dangerous and should be avoided. Bending and lifting the correct way can actually help strengthen the spine versus damaging it. We can teach you the safe way to move while experiencing back pain but also determine when you are strong enough to do higher level movements without aggravating your spine.

7. Avoiding activities and movements can be detrimental

After injuring your back, someone may change the way they move and alter their mechanics when walking, sitting, standing etc. They may tend to move differently for fear that they will cause more pain or injury. However, altered movement patterns in the long term may actually cause more strain or pain in the back.

8. Sleep, stress, and mood can affect your back pain

Lack of sleep, life stresses, anxiety and mood can cause prolonged back pain. Stress can be linked to increased tension in our muscles and fascia which can lead to pain. Relaxation of the mind and body go hand in hand and can help alleviate back pain.

9. Exercise is good and safe

Many people avoid exercises due to fear of damaging their back and causing more pain. This is not true. Regular exercise reduces pain and discomfort, can help strengthen your muscles, improve your mood and decrease tension. It also helps your immune function. Someone with pain may be fearful of starting to exercise. This is common but seeking out professional help from a physical therapist can help you get over this fear of movement. After completing a new activity or new exercises you may feel muscle soreness in areas that have not been worked before. It is important not to confuse delayed muscle pain/soreness after activity with damage to muscles. Physical therapists at Specialized Orthopedic physical therapy can help you understand and learn how to complete proper safe exercises designed for you.

10. Persistent back pain can get better

Back pain can be caused by different sustained postures over the years, increased tissue tension, weakness in your core muscles and lack of mobility. Over time these changes may have attributed to your back pain however addressing these factors and making changes can start to reverse your pain. Making small changes such as standing up for 15 minutes every hour during your work day may help reduce pain associated with static posture in your spine. Or engaging your abdominals while sitting or standing for 10 seconds every 30 minutes may start to alleviate your pain.

At Specialized Orthopedic Physical Therapy, we will take the time to explain to you why you are having back pain, the difference between good pain and bad pain, ways to decrease your pain, how to make activity modifications to decrease pain, and lastly design a home exercise program that will help you recover faster. We will do our best and work with you to achieve your goals and to live a better, happier life without pain.

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