By Dr. Mark Bodnar Bsc, DC, FCCRS(c)
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding back pain and effective treatment for this common complaint. It can be difficult to know the difference between fact and fiction, and without the correct information you could actually do more harm than good. Let's take a look at some of the common beliefs and tackle them one by one.
“Bed rest will help the pain resolve”. False. The pain will feel better if you rest, but too much rest leads to loss of muscle support, the same muscles needed to hold you up when you do get out of bed. Studies have shown that too much rest can cause more chronic back problems. The best option is to keep moving while trying to avoid positions or actions that cause more pain.
"I'm only going to get better with surgery". Fortunately this one is usually false. There are certainly some people who need surgery, but all of the current research recommends a prolonged trial of "conservative" care such as chiropractic, rehabilitation, physiotherapy and/or massage therapy before resorting to surgical intervention. The general finding is that surgery is not very effective for back pain, but does work well if needed for nerve pain into the legs.
"I need X-rays to see what's wrong". Once again this is false, and the same goes for MRI and CT scans. The problem is we don't have any imaging technique that can show us pain. Studies show many people have spinal abnormalities and yet have no pain at all, while others have severe pain but no abnormality. Imaging can be a useful tool, but is often over used and doesn't give us a full picture.
“The pain will go away on it's own”. This is partially true. Often the pain, or at least this particular episode, does go away but research tells us that many people slip into a rollercoaster pattern with pain that comes and goes for years. It's best to get the problem properly diagnosed and resolved rather than continuing on that coaster.
"My dad had a bad back, I knew this was coming". Several studies have shown genetic links to back pain, one recent study found that having an immediate family member with disc problems made it 4 times more likely that you would have disc problems. Even a genetic link is not a life sentence, it's all about choices. If you know diabetes or heart disease runs in your family you can choose to stay active, watch your weight and eat well to minimize your risks. It's the same with a history of back issues. If you stay active, maintain a healthly weight, diet and a strong core you will minimize your risk of injury and future pain.
"Once you start going to a chiropractor you have to keep going forever". This is one of the biggest complaints we hear about chiropractic care – but is it true?. The simple answer is NO, you don't have to keep going forever. The more complex answer is that chronic or recurrent pain will only go away if you change something. Ideally treatment will resolve the pain, then you can use exercises and lifestyle changes to keep it away. With dental care, if you don't brush and floss at home you will need more fillings. Similarily, with chiropractic care, if you don't do appropriate exercises and avoid unhealthy habits you will need more treatment.
“ You need a strong stomach to protect your back". This one is partially true, but the stomach is only one quarter of the core muscles. To have a really strong and stable core area you need to have good coordination, balance and endurance of the muscles all the way around your midsection. In addition to the abdominal muscles, the “core” also includes the back muscles and the lateral muscles. While a strong core is very important, the wrong exercises can lead to injuries Talk to your chiropractor about safe and effective abdominal exercises or check our website for ideas.
“Once you have back pain, then you have it forever”. Thankfully false. Most back problems are not signs of major damage, rather minor injuries to the muscles, discs and joints in the spine. If these minor injuries are repeated year after year, it can turn into a serious problem. With proper care, back problems can be managed or even avoided completely. Combined with modest exercise efforts of appromately 10-15 min per day and correcting bad habits such as poor sitting posture or poor lifting techniques, most people can keep back problems at bay. The problem arises once the pain disappears and the exercises stop. If you go back to the same bad habits you'll end up with the same bad pain!
Bedford Chiropractic, based in Bedford, Nova Scotia, offers full-service consultations, diagnosis and treatment plans for a variety of workplace, repetitive and other injuries. We treat pain to the head, neck, jaw, arm, shoulders, upper body, chest, lower back, legs and feet. Contact us today at 902 835-6865. We serve patients in the Halifax Regional Municipality, including Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, Sackville and surrounding areas.