Few musculoskeletal conditions have a cult-like following of myths as Low Back Pain, many of which have been said by various healthcare providers across all specialties. To help clear the air, let's take a look at the 5 most common misunderstandings and myths that we encounter in our chiropractic clinic that could actually make your low back pain worse.
Before we get started…
These myths and misunderstandings are not aimed at making low back pain seem 'made-up,’ it is a very real and challenging condition. These myths are just folklore passed down from old, unsubstantiated in the research, ways of thinking. Our truth is that, if you believe one thing and that makes you feel that your low back is wrecked for life, they a long road of pain is what you are in store for. We call this fear-avoidance and catastrophizing, the medicalization of a condition. We will touch more on this when we cover imaging next week. But a big part of recovering from low back pain is believing that you can get better. It may sound silly, but no more ridiculous than believing these myths below!
NUMBER 1: Your back pain is from a misalignment, bone out of place, or a ‘subluxation.’
These are common descriptions patients and doctors alike will give when describing their back pain. The most common being...you threw your back out, and it is now misaligned...commonly spoken by chiropractors of a generation ago or current doctors, chiropractors, and physical therapists that have not caught up with current research. The truth to this is that your spine is a dynamic structure designed to move, what we ACTUALLY find is that the pain you are feeling is often associated with immobility, or areas of the spine that should be moving, but due to tight muscles and previous injury, may not be moving well or correctly anymore. Spinal manipulation or an ‘adjustment’ is designed to restore normal motion to these restricted areas.
A bone did not shift out of place and therefore needs to be put back in! That’s not how it works.
NUMBER 2: Arthritis is the root of all evil!
Arthritis is like wrinkles on your face…lets just keep it nice and say they are signs of wisdom. Truthfully, if you live and play hard and long enough, we will all experience some degree of degeneration. However, and please understand this, it is a natural process and does not necessarily equate to pain! When conditions present that are more challenging, using arthritis as the ‘fall guy’ is the easy way out for a provider and an often acceptable answer for the patient.
NUMBER 3: “But…I have scoliosis and a short leg” that is the cause of my back pain.
Just like arthritis, scoliosis and an actual short leg (1cm or shorter than the other) are comfortable areas to place blame when someone presents with back pain. Both can absolutely lead to dysfunction, and if unaddressed, pain and discomfort. To a certain degree, uneven leg lengths and spinal rotation/curvature are normal variants, meaning most people have these at a mild level and are unlikely to be a pain generator. For most (not all) look to place the blame elsewhere.
NUMBER 4: Rest is what I need to recover, right?
The days of ‘take 2 of these, rest, and call me in the morning’ are long gone. You likely have a relative who spent a good amount of their life with back pain that limited some or all of their activity. When you see a case like this or someone who is much too young to be experiencing recurrent back pain, it may seem like the right thing to do is rest up for a while. Fortunately, we now have stacks of research that supports the fact that bed rest is the worst (top 3 at least) idea when it comes to low back pain. The new adage is ‘Movement is Medicine.’ When someone presents to our office, we are not only just trying to relieve pain, but to relieve pain SO THEY CAN GET OUT AND MOVE. Even walking, WALKING, has been shown to reduce low back discomfort and be a great tool to prevent future occurrences.
NUMBER 5: Slap a brace on it & it will be fine.
This is excellent advice if you are looking to weaken your core muscles completely. Did you know that powerlifters use the belt to their advantage to complete amazing feats of strength not to brace their low back, but to give their stomach something to press in to, creating intraabdominal pressure (think bracing your stomach if someone was to punch you) that stabilizes the spine from the inside? Our bodies are amazing, it has its own ‘weight belt’ built in. Using straps, belts, or any other contraption like this for extended periods of time tells your body that you do not need it to do its job anymore. This core weakness and inability to naturally brace yourself through muscle control —> LEADS TO CHRONIC LOW BACK PAIN.
In summary, things change. Our treatment methods and your outlook on your condition must change. Every single one of these five myths is still spouted today in an office somewhere near you. Knowing the validity of that is often more important than the care you receive. While in certain circumstances, these can be valid reasons for low back pain. For most, especially those who come through our Cottonwood Heights, Utah Chiropractic and Rehabilitation clinic, we want a better answer. One that helps address and correct the dysfunction. One that promotes confidence and encourages the patient to try harder, that they can feel better and live a life they enjoy.
Next week, in part 5 of our Fix Your Low Back Series, we are going to discuss red flags, when you need imagining, and why you shouldn’t always rest your diagnosis and pain on those images.
Dr. Reheisse is a Board Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician practicing in Cottonwood Heights Utah. Revive Sport & Spine provides evidence-supported chiropractic care and conservative sports injury management.