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Are You Damaging Your Back? - Dangerously Common Back Pain Myths Debunked

Back pain is a huge problem – it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide. Around 8 out of 10 people in the UK suffer from it at some point. This causes over 4 million days off work taken per year! Despite how common it is, there are still a lot of myths about the causes and cures of back pain. These misconceptions lead to a lot of unnecessary pain! To support Back Care Awareness Week we wanted to share the most common misunderstandings to help you avoid back pain.

back pain1: Back pain is purely a physical symptom, not an emotional one

It can be really frustrating to be told that pain is ‘all in your head’ but this is sometimes true! This is not to say that the pain you are feeling isn’t real. But stress is a hugely undervalued factor in back pain. Long term stress causes your brain to release hormones that effect every part of your body, including your nervous system. This can lead to a decrease in the amount of oxygen that’s able to reach your spine, causing a build-up of waste products. This results in tension, pain and spasms in the muscles of your back.

Another way in which stress can affect your back is the ‘cycle of pain’. This is when existing back pain and the extra stress that goes along with it causes you to tense your muscles. It can also lead you to slouch and take part in less physical activity. This leads to more back pain, which leads to more stress, and so on!

If you have had back pain for a while it’s a good idea to have a look at your stress levels. This way you can take positive steps to lower it such as meditation or changing the way you do things. For example, getting your partner to help out with childcare more often. An excellent way to relieve stress is through exercise, which leads us to our next myth -

2: If your back pain is bad you should stay in bed until it gets better

When you are in a lot of pain it’s really tempting to try and avoid making any movement at all. When you have particularly bad back pain often all you will want to do is lie in bed. However, this is a big mistake! Your spine needs to move normally to recover properly. This also means you should try to avoid moving stiffly as it will cause more strain by placing pressure on your other muscles.

By moving your back, you can increase the mobility and circulation in your muscle tissues. This will reduce spasms, tension and inflammation. Exercising will also reduce stress and help you feel more confident about returning to normal activities. This all might sound quite daunting, but there’s no rush! Any exercise is good and you can increase at your own pace. Try starting by going for a short walk or doing some light stretching. Find something you enjoy doing such as walking with a friend and it will be easier to stay motivated.

Many people find that low impact exercise like yoga or Pilates are excellent for relieving pain and strengthening back muscles. Have a look in your area for rehab-specific classes that will give you extra help and information about supporting your back. You may feel a little bit stiff or sore afterwards to begin with. This is not a sign that you have caused damaged, just that your body is adjusting.

3: The more pain I feel, the more damaged my back is

In most case the more pain you are in, the more serious the condition. This is a logical approach that stops us all panicking when we get a paper cut! So what if your back pain is very severe – surely that means something is wrong? Not necessarily! There are a huge number of factors that go into how much pain you feel. This includes stress levels, past experience of pain, fitness levels and fear about what could be wrong. For example, if you believe that stretching irritates your back this can cause you to feel pain whenever you do it, even if there’s no actual damage happening!

If you’ve had back pain for a while it’s possible for the nerves in your back to become over-sensitive. This means that your brain interprets any amount of strain to be dangerous and creates a much stronger pain signal than is needed. It’s possible to fix these false responses through treatments like gradually increasing your level of exercise or through counselling and physiotherapy. Learning to tell the difference between ‘hurt’ and ‘harm’ will help you to take bigger steps to recover.

4: There’s not much you can do about chronic back pain

It is common for people to declare that they have a bad back and give up on the idea of it ever getting better. This is an understandable reaction if you’re suffering from a lot of pain. However, as we’ve shown it's definitely possible to recover! It's very rare for back pain to be permanent or disabling, whereas occasional episodes of back pain that flare up and then go away are extremely common. You can reduce the amount of back pain you experience by taking steps to strengthen and rehabilitate your back and spine.

Here are our top tips for recovering from back pain:

  • Keep exercising! To begin with try something low impact like yoga, walking or swimming, gradually increasing at your own pace.
  • Check your stress levels; by staying mentally healthy you will find it a lot easier to maintain good physical health. Talk to someone if you are feeling strained.
  • If you have to work at a desk, try dynamic sitting (adjusting your position regularly to keep your spine active) or even give a standing desk a go!
  • Trigger point massage can help to relieve muscle tension; our AcuBall and Yoga Therapy Balls are perfect for self-massage.
  • Support yourself during flare ups with a brace – this will help you return to normal activities without straining yourself by moving in awkward ways.
  • For pain caused by back injuries, try using cold therapy for the first 48 hours then soothing it with heat therapy.