While a highly common phenomenon, back pain is still surrounded by myths and misconceptions that may sabotage the desire for back pain recovery for some people. If you develop a case of back pain, it’s important to know what to do and what not to do, and what types of treatments are most likely to work. Often, a simple case of muscle strain is the cause, and a bit of time is sufficient to remedy the pain. However, those with persistent or recurrent pain need to pay more attention to their backs. Avoid the following misconceptions to increase your chances of recovery.
1. Rest, rest, rest.
Bed rest is actually one of the worst treatment methods for back pain. If you have a simple muscle strain, taking it easy for a day or two is fine. But prolonged back pain is not a call for prolonged rest. Physical deconditioning sets in quick after two days of bed rest, resulting in weakened muscles and decreased cardiovascular capacity. This means that your muscles will be susceptible to cramping, stiffness, aching and strain; it also means they won’t be able to support proper posture and body mechanics, which can lead to worsened pain. Finally, a weak cardiovascular system will fail to provide fresh blood flow with its nutrients and oxygen to the tissues of the body. Your tissues need ample blood flow to stay strong and pain-free.
2. Get a scan right away.
Imaging scans, particularly the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), are now believed to be heavily overused for back pain diagnosis. Most cases of back pain aren’t caused by the types of spinal abnormalities that show up on scans, and most people have these “abnormalities,” although they are often asymptomatic. A scan can steer treatment wrong by misidentifying the source of pain as a spinal “abnormality.” Scans should be reserved for cases wherein patients present with signs of nerve damage, such as leg weakness or bowel or bladder changes.
3. Medication is the beginning and end of treatment.
The current medical climate emphasizes prescription and over-the-counter drug use for just about everything. This promotes passive patient attitudes around treatment. However, recovering from lower back pain requires exercise; it may also require conservative treatment methods such as massage therapy, acupuncture or structured exercise programs like yoga. If medication is a must, try to think of it as a short-term means to allow you to stay active rather than as the crux of your treatment.
4. The source must be in the back.
If you limit your consideration of back pain causes to the back itself, you may be hindering your own recovery. Consider other potential sources in your body – excess abdominal weight or gait abnormalities, such as over-pronation, for example. Weak muscles in other areas of the body, such as the hips or buttocks, are another potential source; they call on the back muscles to compensate for them. Don’t limit yourself to the location of pain when seeking its source.
Avoiding the above four back pain misconceptions will optimize your chances of effective treatment. Be active about your treatment, and take a whole-body approach to seeking out causes of pain.
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