Busting myths about low back pain
What if everything you thought you knew about back pain was wrong. Pain is a complex experience and things aren’t always as they seem.
Myth no. 1 – You know what caused your pain
You may think you know what caused your low back pain, but despite all of the diagnostic tests available we still don’t know what causes pain.
Whatever you have been told about the cause of your back pain including slipped disc, disc protrusion, degenerative changes, osteophyte formation or osteoarthritis is actually a myth. These terms describe normal processes that happen as we get older, rather than pathological processes that require further investigation or treatment.
You might be surprised to learn that there is no evidence that any of these changes cause low back pain. In some cases, they are not even present in people with low back pain, or conversely, they are present in people without low back pain.
At best these terms provide a convenient explanation for low back pain, something tangible. But these explanations are untrue and only create confusion.
Myth no. 2 – Medical imaging is necessary to diagnose the cause of low back pain
If you have imaging, MRI, or CT it will likely show some changes in your back structure, but it does not tell you anything about your pain. It can’t tell the experts what you’re feeling or why you feel it. In fact, it will only cause you to worry about changes that are essentially normal and this worry could lead to more pain and disability.
Myth no. 3 – Pain is a reflection of damage
You might think the bigger the pain, the worse the muscle, bone or ligament damage. But this is not true.
In the very early stages of an injury, pain can accompany tissue damage but pain is not an accurate reflection of what is happening.
Think of a paper cut, usually, there is considerable pain, but minor tissue damage. To produce pain our brain assesses information from multiple sources, including the site of the injury, but also our surrounding environment, our emotions, our thoughts, beliefs and our memories.
If there were any tissue damage involved when the pain started, healing would have occurred within three months of the injury. After this time, pain is an unreliable indicator of what’s happening in your body.
You are not alone if you believed in any of these myths. Unfortunately, when we believe these kinds of false statements about pain our recovery can take longer.
But there is good news. An intervention as simple as delivering accurate, evidence-based education reduces fears, worries and disability and leads to a reduction in future episodes of low back pain.