Myths and Facts About Back Pain

Hand massaging back.

The Truth About Back Pain

Back pain is extremely common. In fact, 80% of people will have significant back pain at some point. Back pain symptoms vary from individual to individual. They can be sharp or dull. Myths regarding back pain are also common. Can you recognize the myths and facts that follow?

An elderly man sits.

Myth: Always Sit Up Straight

We know slouching in chairs is bad for your back. However, sitting up too straight and still can also irritate the back.

For relief of back pain from prolonged sitting, intermittently try leaning back in your chair with your feet on the floor with a slight curve in the low back. Also, stand for part of the day when possible (for example, while on the phone or reading).

Weightlifter and heavy barbell.

Myth: Don't Lift Heavy Objects

When lifting, it's the way you lift that is most important, not just the weight you are lifting. When lifting, try to be as close to the object as possible, squatting to make the lift. Use your legs to lift. Don't torque your body or bend during the lift.

Bare feet in bed.

Myth: Bed Rest Is the Best Cure

Bed rest can help an acute back strain or injury. But it is not true that you should stay in bed. Sometimes remaining immobile in bed can actually make back pain worse.

Woman falling off of a ladder.

Myth: Pain Is Caused by Injury

Back pain can be caused by injuries, disk degeneration, infections, and conditions that are inherited, such as ankylosing spondylitis.

A man rides a bike on the beach..

Fact: More Pounds, More Pain

Keeping fit is helpful in preventing or aggravating back pain. Back pain is more common in those who are unfit or overweight. Those who only exercise intermittently (the weekend warriors) are at increased risk for back injury.

Fashion models walk on the catwalk.

Myth: Skinny Means Pain-Free

People who are too thin can also be at risk for back pain, especially those with eating disorders and osteoporosis.

A male swimmer stretches.

Myth: Exercise Is Bad for Back Pain

Regular exercise is very good for preventing back pain. Actually, for those with an acute back injury, sometimes a guided, mild exercise program is recommended. This often begins with gentle exercises that gradually increase in intensity.

A chiropractor adjusts a woman's back.

Fact: Chiropractic Care Can Help

Spinal manipulation and massage can be very helpful options for many forms of lower back pain.

A woman gets acupuncture.

Fact: Acupuncture May Ease Pain

Acupuncture can be helpful for relieving many types of back pain that do not respond to other treatments. Yoga, progressive relaxation, and cognitive behavioral therapy can also be beneficial.

A young woman lies on her back.

Myth: A Firm Bed Mattress Is Better

People differ in their response to mattress firmness. One study from Spain showed that those who slept on a medium-firm mattress (rated 5.6 on a 10 point hard-to-soft scale) had less back pain and disability than those who slept on a firm mattress (2.3 on the scale).



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  • American College of Physicians, 2013.
  • American Pain Society, 2013.
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