Why so many people don’t fully recover and end up with a “bad back” for life.
Back pain is a national and international epidemic.
An estimated one billion people across the globe suffer from it every day. In fact, chronic back pain has become the second most common reason people seek medical care and is the number one cause of disability. All too often we hear people say that back pain is something they have learnt to live with, or that it is just a normal part of aging…
We do not think back pain is something that you have to live with.
These common misconceptions are caused by misinformation, what are doctors not telling you about your back pain? What more can be done? What is it that is stopping you from getting better, pain-free, and living life to its fullest?
Our expertise and experience has taught us there are a few mistakes made when you visit your doctor about back pain and are most likely the reason your pain is still there. Read on to see if any of these have happened to you.
The doctor sends you for an MRI or X-ray.
MRI Scans and X-rays rarely help to identify the true cause of your back pain.
When someone hurts their back, patients often fear they have slipped a disc or pinched a nerve. What follows is a recommendation from the doctor to get an MRI and confirm or deny these findings and form a diagnosis.
When MRIs came out in the 80’s they thought this technology could help to identify any cause of back pain as we could clearly see changes in people’s backs, especially the discs and nerves of the spine. We jumped to conclusions and associated any abnormalities or changes on the MRI image with the patient’s back pain.
What we didn’t realise at the time was that people with no back pain at all have these abnormalities and changes too. In fact, many people over the age of 30 have signs of degeneration or a disc bulge on MRI with no pain. We know now that most cases of disc bulges are like wrinkles – they are a natural part of aging but don’t cause us pain.
Only in less than 1% of cases are MRIs or X Rays of any value to you or your doctor in determining your cause of back pain. If you have been diagnosed as having a disc bulge/prolapse/herniation, arthritis, spondylitis, or wear and tear based on your MRI or X-ray alone, you need to see an experienced and up-to-date back expert who can accurately diagnose your condition. Imagine trying to work out why your car engine was not working by taking a photograph. There is no chance they could tell what was wrong with it.
You are given medication to fix your back pain.
In the short term anti-inflammatories and painkillers help to reduce pain so you can move better and give your body the opportunity to heal. Simple over-the-counter medications are usually all that is needed for most cases of back pain. They are normally most effective for the first 2-3 days, but beyond that can do more harm than good. They are most effective in subsiding acute inflammation and pain so that the recovery can begin.
Stronger prescription-only medications can have negative side-effects, be addictive and only act as a cover-up to mask the pain but will do nothing to help the cause. Pain is an important and useful message from our brains to take action. It is a chemical signal that keeps us out of danger and alerts us when something is not right. If we are given medications to numb this signal, we are inhibiting one of our body’s most important defensive and primal functions.
You are told that surgery will fix your back pain
Unless you have been diagnosed with a serious disease like cancer, a fracture of the spine, or you can’t feel one or both of your legs, surgery is more than likely not the answer.
The body is a complex interaction of body parts and systems that have learned to adapt and survive. Any disruption to this process will have a multi-system effect that requires your body to readapt and relearn to function effectively. It is not as simple as going in and removing the problematic disc, for example, all the structures around the disc are disrupted and your body’s movement patterns must adapt. While surgery can seem like a quick fix, there can often be a lengthy recovery process involving hospital stays, medications, and rehabilitation programs.
If you can teach your body to adapt to an injury and relearn how to function in a pay-free way through a rehabilitation program anyway, why not consider skipping the trauma of surgery first.
Laying on a table receiving ONLY passive treatment will fix it
Passive treatment such as massage, heat, manipulation, or adjustments are helpful for the early stages of back pain. Often this is all you need for cases of back pain that are treated early (within 6-12 weeks).
If your back pain has been going on for more than 3 months, it is classified as chronic or persistent in nature, and you will need a different approach. If you have chronic back pain, no amount of massage or manipulations will help. The body must be retrained and have its muscle imbalances and weaknesses corrected to achieve permanent pain relief. Too often we hear of people seeing their practitioner for a massage every week for years on end with no success. There needs to be a balance between what the practitioner can do for you in the treatment room, and what you can do for yourself at home eg. home exercises, and lifestyle changes.
You think your back pain is due to something being ‘out of place’
There is no evidence that back pain is caused by a bone or joint in your back being out of place or your pelvis being out of alignment. Common suggestions that back pain is caused by spinal subluxations, pelvic asymmetries, alterations in leg length, and other simple structural issues, are incorrect. Although these are findings observed in patients and may contribute to back pain, they are not the cause.
Having your back manipulated is not putting anything back in place as there was never anything ‘out of place’! This also applies to the common perception that discs can move or ‘slip’ in and out.
Of course, some people may experience reduced pain after having their spine manipulated or ‘popped’. Pain relief from such manipulation works by reducing the sensitivity or ‘activity’ of the nervous system, restoring normal joint movement and muscle activity. You will feel short-term relief but your back pain may come back again unless the underlying cause is corrected.
You are told having a bad back is normal.
Many people simply put up with back pain, assuming it is normal and just a regular part of aging, a misconception that is often reinforced by doctors who suggest medications and surgeries.
Our understanding of back pain today is greater than ever before, with more and more research being done to understand why. With this, comes more solutions however it is important to remember that there is no quick fix. There is no magic pill, exercise, or treatment that will solve it as there are so many factors that contribute to an individual’s back pain. If you are prepared to find experts who can help you develop an individualised treatment plan that includes corrective exercises and lifestyle changes, you can greatly improve your back pain.
A back pain expert will look at all aspects of your life and function, in order to develop a specific program for you that includes hands-on treatment, guided and individualized exercise programs, and specific lifestyle changes. This multifaceted approach is what our experience in treating these conditions has taught us to be the most effective.
Stay tuned for part 2 on what you can do yourself to assess and treat your back pain.
To come in and see one of our amazing back pain experts and make the changes to live your life without pain, call our reception on 9481 7794 or BOOK NOW.