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Back Pain - Busting the Myths!

Back pain can be a highly debilitating, and often, recurring problem. 50-85% of adults experience low back pain in their lifetimes. Due to it's high prevalence, many strong beliefs about the causes and best treatments for back pain have been engrained into our brains and even more so now with the rise of social media.

You may have heard some of the following statements if you have ever suffered with back pain before but none have any evidence to support or back this up:

  • Tight hip flexors cause back pain

  • Lifting with your back and not your legs causes back pain

  • 'Poor posture' causes back pain

  • Your pelvis is out of alignment and this causes back pain

  • You have one leg longer than the other and this causes back pain

You may have also heard some scary words used to describe your back pain that are often also either not supported by any evidence or increase the fear of your injury:

  • You have a 'slipped' disc

  • Your discs have 'worn away'

  • You have a 'trapped' nerve

These words often don't represent your back pain and can also make you more fearful of your pain and thus creating a fear of movement as well as increased anxiety surrounding your injury.

We could go into a lot of detail as to why the above statements are either simply untrue or evidence for them is unfounded but we will focus on the 2 highlighted (lifting with your back and having a slipped disc). The 2 are often used together to tell someone that ''if they lift with a bent back and don't use their legs then they will slip a disc''.

A slipped disc describes (poorly) the middle section of the intervertebral disc pushing through the outer layer. It can then irritate the nerves running by it and give you back pain and sometimes leg pain. However, it must be noted that the tissue that makes up the disc is very strong. It is often better described as a piece of gum within a tyre to represent it's strength. So whilst this is possible, it would take a lot of force and is unlikely. Even if it does occur, it does not always cause pain. The term 'slipped disc' makes your back sound frail, which it isn't!

Most of us will have heard that if you lift with a bent back, you will cause yourself an injury. Our spine, from neck to low back, is designed to bend forwards and backwards under load with daily tasks. As well as the spine itself being a naturally strong and flexible structure, it is surrounded by lots of muscles, providing additional support. There is nothing wrong with lifting with a straight back and 'using your legs' but there is also nothing wrong with lifting with a bent spine and evidence suggests we should not be fearful of it. Even strength training with this principle can be a great way to reduce the risk of a back injury if load is progressively increased over time.

Note - Whilst most back pain is not serious and will recover by itself, it is worth getting checked by a health professional to be on the safe side and hopefully rule out any serious conditions.

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