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10 Myths About Back Pain You'll Wish You Knew Sooner

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

Whether you "just slept funny", are crawling around your house or even laid up on the couch in pain, here are 10 myths that could be harming your back health. Everything you need to know about back pain and what you can do about it.

StatsCan and Canadian Chiropractic Association both agree that back pain will effect about 80% of the population at some point in their lives. Of those, approximately 1 out of 3 cases will be so intense that it prevents you from going to work or the activities you love. Ouch! If you are reading this post, my guess is that either you or someone you love, has probably been effected by back pain. I’m sorry to hear that which is why I have created this myth busting list to help get you on the right track FASTER.

To better understand your pain, let's catchup with the most up-to-date research on back pain. First, let me say a lot of what we used to think about back pain is actually untrue. Lets debunk some of these myths so you can get back to wellness (pun totally intended)...

Disclaimer: Although I am an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner and a Yoga Instructor by profession, I am NOT your health care provider. This article is for information and educational purposes only. It does not constitute professional or health care advice. It does not establish any kind of practitioner-patient relationship with me. I am not liable or responsible for any harm resulting from or related to your use of this information

Myth #1

That discs slip.

Nope, they are securely attached. While this term is commonly used, this isn’t exactly true. They don’t just slide in and out of place. Your spine is made up of bony vertebra and cartilage fluid-filled discs. Ever seen one of those balance cushions/discs in a physio office? You know the ones where you are supposed to stand on one leg? If you think about it like this, the air can be moved around similar to that of fluid/jelly-like substance of the discs. It can bulge out a little bit causing nerve pain. And they do herniate, which is when there is a rip in the lining and the fluid contents to flow out. But the idea that the whole disc can just slip in and out from on the vertebra isn't correct. They are securely attached. What most people mean then they have a slipped disc is that they have a bulging or more serious, a herniated disc.

Myth #2

Back pain is always the result of injury or tissue damage.

Not always! In my practice, I see lots of people who have back pain but have clear MRIs and scans. This would imply their pain is NOT the result of damage. Research shows that people can have pain without tissue damage or they can have what appears as "damage" without experiencing pain. This means that back pain isn't specifically the result of injury or tissue damage. Which is why simply having the perfect rehab exercises may not be enough to cure back pain. This also doesn't mean it is all in your head. What it does mean is there are many factors to consider when solving the back pain puzzle. When consulting with a health care provider, make sure to go over all possible factors to design a multifactorial biopsychosocial healing plan.

Myth #3

Rest is best for back pain

Simply put NO. Whether your pain is from a back injury or not, healing is better when you move. Your back is designed to move therefore the more you move, the better you will feel! The key here is to start with what movements you CAN do. Even if the only thing you can do is bring your knees up towards your chest a little bit. If it relieves your pain by 10% you are doing great! It is a sufficient starting off point and you can progress from here. Do what you can, until you can do more.

Myth #4

Healing is Linear

Many people believe that you can go to a therapist one time and just progressively get better from that point on. While this does happen for some, it is an exception not the rule. Don't be too hard on yourself when you do eventually have a "bad" day. The goal is to experience progressively more good days than bad days. Better yet, let's rebrand them as slower more intentional days. Take a moment to get in touch with your body and move in ways that support you on that day.

Myth #5

Repetitive movements are bad for my back.

The opposite might actually be true for this one. Repeated movement may not only be good for your back but your mental health too. After all, this is basically what exercise and training are. If you want to get better at something, you train that movement into your body. We call this muscle memory. As we train, our mind-body connection deepens so that we can perform the task/skill/drill more efficiently with less thought. Think about when you first started to learn to drive? You used to have to think about where your hands were, looking in each mirror and how to shift. Now you probably drive home and don't even remember how you got there. This is because it became instinctive to you. Essentially, starting with a basic movement and adding progressive load (weight) will make you better at that action.

Myth # 6

If there is nothing on a scan or image, the pain is just in my head

Pain is about protecting you and relates to the level of perceived threat by the brain. Pain itself doesn't mean damage. It is simply PERCEIVED threat of potential harm. Things may hurt more because you may associate movements, activities or even environments with harm or pain. There is very interesting story about Lorimer Moseley and Why things hurt. Click the link to watch his Ted Talk:

The story of Lorimer Moseley (if you didn't listen to the story above) is about a man who went walking in the forest and cut his foot on a stick. A couple of days later he woke up in hospital. As it turns out that "stick" was actually a very poisonous and deadly snake that did in fact bite him. But he never experienced any pain. How is this possible? Lorimer grew up walking the forest and cut himself many times on sticks in the past. So when he experienced this moment, his brain and body decided it already knew the narrative and there was absolutely no threat to alert you to.. As a result, he was able to carry on hiking. The key to this story comes later. After healing, he did take another walk in the woods, where he cut himself on a real stick this time and experienced blinding hot pain. What happened? His body said "the last time this happened you almost DIED, therefore I am going to make you aware of this URGENTLY so you can seek help. This story shows that sometimes our bodies are working off inappropriate or old patterns in order to protect us from past events. Rewriting this narrative in a safe environment can help.

Myth #7

I should ICE my sore back.

The science on this one says probably not. ICE is an acronym pre dating 1978 standing for Ice, Compression and Elevation. Now I don't have my same phone from even 5 years ago, so Im not going to take the advice of science from 40+ years ago.

ICE or even RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) was retracted in 2014-2018 and replaced with PEACE + LOVE. For more details read the blog post on healing with peace and love. The reason is that the inflammatory process is also the healing process. If there is tissue damage, we do want to allow the healing factors to heal. Ice may actually slow this process long-term even if we do get that immediate sense of relief.

Myth #8

Food has nothing to do with my back pain.

What we eat actually makes a huge impact on our healing and pain perception. This is particularly true if you are eating foods that you are sensitive or straight-up allergic to. It will create an inflammatory cascade in your body. But not in the good sense like we mentioned above. Inflammation does elevate pain and eating foods that aren't good for you is actually like eating poison and hoping to heal. Foods that may slow healing are things like alcohol, sugar or if you are sensitive to a particular food (common ones are dairy, wheat, eggs but these foods themselves are not the problem). On the flip side, eating good foods like healthy fats help our nerves, lean protein helps us rebuild tissues and certain foods like turmeric can have healing properties. The one thing to be clear on before dusting turmeric on all your food, is that it does promote dilation of blood vessels, increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure in some people. This can have negative consequences for individuals on blood pressure or heart medication. Please consult your doctor, nutritionist, dietician or naturopathic doctor before adding certain foods to your diet.

Myth #9

Staying awake all night is fine if I am doing exercises

This one thankfully is false! Sleep is not only essential to your body to function but it also may play a key role in back pain perception. There have been links from self reports of NOT sleeping in a first appointment being an indicator for back pain in a follow up and even burnout subsequently later. While we don't know if they are inversely link, we do know that better sleep does lead to lower reports of back pain. Prioritizing 8-9 hours of quality sleep is key! This connection was found to be higher in women over the age of 45. See my sleep guide for tips on how to catch those Z's!

Myth #10

Staying home from work is a good idea

Happy (or sorry in some cases) to report that returning to work in a modified way may actually support your recovery. I am sure your boss is happy to have you return to work early or if you are self-employed I am certain you cannot wait to get back to passion! The great news is, the research supports this transition as long as you are taking into consideration your current needs. You may need to return on "lite" or modified duties. But the return to work keeping your mind and body active is a healthy choice! Remember the same principles apply here as in exercises. Start with where you are at, and slowly increase the load as you feel confident.

Bonus Myth

There is only one way to deal with back pain

It is about finding the right combination of things to help with your pain. Modern research is getting clear on the biopsychosocial model of healing. This means dealing with the biological, psychological and social factors in your life will help your back pain and overall well-being. Building a community around you because touch and hugs can make us happier and release hormones that make us feel less pain. Just like NOT enjoying your work can actually make you experience back pain!!! This one is no joke just like the term "tax pain" from the tax commercials were actually on to something. As it turns out stress can actually stimulate pain or at the very least make us more aware of it. The reason for this has to do with pain thresholds. The good news is we have the ability to raise or lower them while meeting the demands of life. If you are currently in pain be sure to build a support team around you. This may include but is not limited to a manual therapist, exercise therapists, and community groups.

If you are looking for a place to begin Join the 6 weeks to BETTER BACKS PROGRAM

The popular Better Backs is now available as an live online program over Zoom, running for 6 week sessions. This class guides you through self-massage, strength and mobility movements to help feel confident and resilient.

We focus on comprehensive rolling techniques to relieve tension in tight areas around the hips, pelvis and back. Coach you through stability + strengthening exercises for the core and back to feel strong and confident. We finish each session with guided therapeutic stretching + yoga exercises to move freely.

For more information on the BETTER BACKS program click here.

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