Eighty percent of us will experience a significant episode of back pain during our lifetime.

Today’s blog post is written by Dr. Donald B. Levy, Medical Director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Matthew H. Kowalski, DC, chiropractor at the Osher Center.

There is a good chance that you will experience low back pain at some point during your lifetime. In fact, 80 percent of us will experience a significant episode of back pain. It may be a mild strain, such as after a day of yard work, or it may come on for no apparent reason and be quite severe.

If you suffer from back pain, your first temptation may be to search the Internet. In fact, most patients come to their doctor only after they have consulted online information. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation available online. This post will help you distinguish between the myths and facts about low back pain.

Myth 1:

Get in bed and rest.


Activity can provide relief while bed rest for longer than a day may actually prolong your recovery.  Rather than confine yourself to bed, walk as much as you can tolerate.

Myth 2:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will determine what is wrong.


Often it is not possible to identify the exact cause of uncomplicated low back pain. For example, one in four adults have a herniated disc and no pain while other patients have serious back pain which is not related to an anatomic diagnosis. MRI studies are reserved for situations when doctors suspect more complicated health problems or are considering surgery or therapeutic injections.

Myth 3:

Relief from back pain requires strong medications, such as narcotics.


Many of the over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and acetaminophen will provide substantial short-term relief. Short-term (a few days) use of a narcotic medication may be appropriate in some instances of low back pain, but long-term narcotic usage can create dependency that is harder to overcome than the back pain itself.

Myth 4:

Sit-ups will help strengthen your back.


Sit-ups may strain your low back. Instead, do abdominal crunches or curl-ups: elevate your legs on a couch or therapy ball and curl your torso up to the point where your shoulder blades just lift from the floor.

Myth 5:

Disc degeneration always leads to low back pain.


Disc degeneration and spinal arthritis are a normal part of aging; though they may be unavoidable, they do not always cause us pain.

Myth 6:

Back pain can be “cured” through medications and injections.


Medications and injections are a bridge to helping you feel better, not the final destination. Many types of treatment (medications, exercises, or physical therapy techniques) can help relieve your pain while you are rehabilitating.

Myth 7:

Back supports help prevent low back injury.


Low back supports, such as those seen in some home improvement stores, do not prevent back injury. In fact, there is some evidence that back injuries sustained when wearing a back support are more severe than those without one.

For information on how to get treatment for back pain, read the May 2013 issue of the Osher Center’s Healthy 850 enewsletter

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