Myths & Facts About Low Back Pain

Feb 26, 2016

Lori Francoeur

by Lori Francoeur
PT, MSPT, CSCS | Owner of the Ahwatukee Location

Along with many locations throughout the Valley, Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy has an Ahwatukee physical therapy clinic that provides hands-on, individualized services to patients of all ages with a huge variety of injuries and complaints. We offer a free assessment of your PT needs, which can be scheduled online here. For more information and advice about physical therapy, follow our blog.
Lori Francoeur has over 15 years of experience treating orthopedic and sport-related injuries, and she is the owner of our Ahwatukee physical therapy location. She discusses common misconceptions surrounding lower back pain, and the facts about recovery.
According to numerous studies, 3 out of 4 Americans will experience low back pain (LBP) at some point in their lives. The good news is, almost 90% of acute LBP (pain lasting less than 3 months) can be resolved within 8 to 12 weeks WITHOUT surgery. However, many myths people believe about back pain prevent patients from receiving proper treatment and recovery. These are some of the myths, and the facts, surrounding LBP.
Myth #1: Diagnostic tests, like X-rays, MRIs, and CT Scans, can identify the cause of low back pain.
In reality, the cause of LBP is not always evident in scans and tests. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “up to 85% of low back conditions cannot be diagnosed on basis of history, physical exam, or imaging studies alone.”
Obviously the structure of the body has to be evaluated, but diagnostic testing often shows that the body appears normal and uninjured despite complaints of severe low back pain. On the other hand, there is also a high rate of false positives – patients do not complain of pain, yet diagnostic tests show issues such as disc bulges, herniation, and degeneration. This is why diagnostic testing is often inconclusive, or even counterproductive.
Since degenerative changes in the spine are a normal part of aging, they are often not predictive of the development or duration of LBP. Diagnostic testing is not typically needed during LBP’s early stages, and conservative treatment will resolve most issues.
Myth #2: If your back hurts, you should take it easy and rest until the pain goes away.
Most studies actually show that it is important not to exceed more than 48 hour of rest following acute back pain. Inactivity contributes to your low back becoming weak, stiff, and de-conditioned, so it can make your back problems worse. One study found that people who waited longer than 48 hours to resume activity missed twice as much work in the long run than those who resumed normal daily activities and stayed relatively active. Bed rest might work for short term relief, but the sooner you resume an active lifestyle, the sooner your pain will decrease.
Inactivity can have detrimental physical effect, but it is also linked to emotional and psychological issues such as depression and fear-pain avoidance. Depression and fear of movement can adversely impact your pain level, and even increase the length of your pain episode.
Myth #3: Back pain is a normal part of aging.
Low back pain does not need to be a part of your everyday life at any age. While your back may become more susceptible to injury as we age, there are many non-surgical interventions that can prevent injury, relieve pain, and help you return to daily activities symptom-free. LBP does not have to be part of the aging process. Staying active and participating in regular exercise is one way to remain pain free regardless of your age. Physical therapy is also a great resource to resolve and prevent low back pain.
Myth #4: If I have back pain, then I will most likely need surgery.
90% of LBP can be resolved with conservative treatment, including medication, exercise, and physical therapy. Spine surgery is necessary in less than 1% of LBP cases and very specific symptoms and diagnoses must be present. Surgery should only be considered if other less extreme interventions have failed.
It is true that the longer a patient waits to seek treatment for low back pain, the less success they have in resolving it. However, this does not mean you will have to end up having surgery. Once LBP occurs, the key is to manage the condition through regular exercise with an emphasis on core strength, moving properly, using correct lifting techniques, and doing cardiovascular exercise like walking, to prevent future flare-ups.
Foothills physical therapists will work with you to come up with a comprehensive plan to get you back to your desired activity level and pain free living. Contact us today to start on your journey to better health.

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