There are many myths surrounding lower back pain, many of which are not true. While persistent back pain can be scary, contrary to these myths, it is rarely dangerous or life-threatening.
Low back pain is the world’s leading cause of disability. But with common myths surrounding back pain, reinforced by the media and well-meaning clinicians, it is also associated with costly health care, often which can be harmful.
Peter O’Sullivan and colleagues write in an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “This misinformation can lead people to fear back pain, respond to it in unhelpful ways and drive poor healthcare. Myths often cause negative emotional responses such as fear, distress and loss of hope as well as behaviors like over-protecting the back and avoiding movement, activity and work.”
O’Sullivan, who is a specialist physiotherapist with the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, became interested in studying the myths surrounding lower back pain because almost daily, he comes across patients who hold unhelpful beliefs.
The Low Back Pain Myths
In the published editorial, O’Sullivan and his colleagues identify 10 common myths about low back pain. They were able to counter each myth about back pain with facts supported by evidence. Among these myths are how low back pain can become persistent and will worsen with age, and that pain is always a sign of tissue damage which requires rest. Many clinicians also believe that scans and invasive procedures are always needed to diagnose and treat low back pain.
The problem with these low back pain myths are that they could lead to more pain, ineffective care, and unwarranted anxiety.
The majority of acute low back pain is mechanical in nature, meaning that there is a disruption in the way the components of the back (the spine, muscle, intervertebral discs, and nerves) fit together and move. Understanding symptoms and physical findings should be used to come to a precise diagnosis. With the myths surrounding lower back pain, many times patients are offered care or treatments that may not be necessary putting a strain on health care costs and the patient.
Many people believe that simply getting older is a cause of back pain, but this is just another myth. Low back pain is a universal human experience, almost everyone has it at some point, and it can be caused by a variety of reasons. Persistent low back pain is rarely related to tissue damage and scans rarely show the cause of back pain. Therefore, in patients experiencing pain, it is important to get a proper diagnosis. Physicians need to be made aware of the many causes of lower back pain, and how they can offer treatment other than costly procedures.