Despite being one of the top causes of disability in the U.S., affecting around eight in 10 people in their lifetimes, back pain is an ailment often misunderstood by those affected, says Denver physical therapist Patrick Donovan.
Such misconceptions, Dr. Donovan adds, can cause those suffering from back pain to seek solutions, potential treatment paths, and even lifestyle alterations that aren’t necessarily in their best interests.
“Back pain can be as frustrating. It can become debilitating and we quickly seek out any and all treatments,” said Dr. Donovan, owner of Heather Lane Physical Therapy in Denver. “This can lead a person down paths that don’t result in the best outcomes and most necessary evidence-based treatments.”
Such paths, Dr. Donovan points out, can sometimes lead to treatments that are more expensive or personally invasive – and perhaps even unnecessary – such as MRIs and surgery.
“MRIs, surgery, medication … these are last resort-type treatments,” Dr. Donovan says. “Most common back pain issues will go away on their own in a few days. And even when they don’t, most remaining cases can be successfully resolved less invasive, more affordable and more effective treatment approaches.”
To help health care consumers make better decisions when considering solutions to their back-pain issues, Dr. Donovan sheds light on the following common back pain myths:
1. Bed Rest Helps with Relief & Healing:
Once a common treatment for back pain, research strongly suggests long-term rest can slow recovery and even make your back pain worse. Instead, treatment involving movement and exercise (i.e., pain-free stretches, walking, swimming, etc.) often works better to hasten healing and provide relief.
2. The Problem’s in My Spine:
Back pain can be caused by a wide array of issues throughout the body as well as one’s environment. It can be a response to the way you move when you exercise, how you sit at work, the shoes you wear, the mattress on which you sleep, or simply your body compensating for movement limitations and weaknesses. We need to shift the mindset of a “bad back.
3. I Just Need an ‘Adjustment’:
Those accustomed to visiting a chiropractor for back pain issues often claim to find relief from having their spine adjusted, or “cracked.” While this process can release endorphins that offer temporary relief, only about 10 percent of all back pain cases can actually benefit from spinal manipulation. Exercise is often more effective and doesn’t require more medical management.
4. Medications are the Answer:
A popular quick fix, medications should never be viewed as a long-term solution with ongoing back pain issues. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help get you through in the short term, but many prescription pain meds can be dangerous, addictive, and even make the pain worse in some instances.
5. I’ll Probably Need Surgery:
Of people experiencing low-back pain, only about 4 to 8 percent of their conditions can and should be successfully treated with surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Even herniated discs often get better through a combination of rest and physical therapy.
6. I Need a Referral to See a Physical Therapist:
In Colorado, patients can access physical therapy services without first getting a physician’s prescription. Your PT can determine if therapy will benefit your specific low back condition. Rest assured that trying PT first improves health outcomes and decreases the demand on our already complicated health care system.