3 Major Myths Concerning Back Pain

  1. The need for an accurate diagnosis
  2. The need to rest until pain is gone
  3. The pain will lead to chronic disability

The need for accurate diagnosis

The spine is a unique structure and is often subject to debate in various circles of study.  During your lifetime you have about a 70% chance of developing acute lumber pain.  I am sure if you have experienced significant pain in your back, you have had concerns regarding accurate diagnosis of where the pain is coming from.  In fact, many form their own lay mans version of a structural cause, such as the muscles, ligaments or disc.  What is interesting is that research shows that none of these can accurately be diagnosed as a source of pain.  What is even more important is that structural causes need not be identified in 85-90% of back pain patients for a successful outcome to result.  It should put you at ease knowing that serious medical disease resulting in pain is less than 2% of all back pain causes.  What’s more exciting is that the fact that these 2% maybe ruled out through a proper history and simple exam.  So what is causing the pain?

A better question is to ask “what is my pain trying to tell me?”  The perception that pain is a negative sensation is harmful; pain is simply trying to tell you that if you keep doing something (such as lifting improperly a certain way) the tissue may be harmed.  It doesn’t mean you have already harmed the tissue.  In the case of a simple back ache, pain doesn’t equal harm!  Therefore the pain is simply telling you to be more active or aware of your movements.

Need to rest until pain is gone.

The biomedical model has often prescribed bed rest for lower back pain (LBP); however multiple studies have shown bed rest to be more harmful than good.  In fact, 2-3 days bed rest is maximum for acute, simple back aches.  More over this should only be recommended when pain is severe.  Bed rest isn’t treatment for the pain; it is a consequence of the pain.  Even though uncomfortable, being astutely active is the best and most efficient form of treatment. For simple back pain when should you use bed rest?  If the pain is severe (9/10) then consider it, but only for a few days (remember rest isn’t always best).  Excessive bed rest may lead to chronic disability.

People experiencing back pain often become fearful that the pain will cause serious disability.  Such disability is highly unlikely; moreover, people who remain positive, active, and motivated are likely to recover quickly.  People who equate hurt to harm or exaggerate pain tend to become worse.  When a person experiencing back pain stops becoming active, the joints and muscles become inactive, this inactivity leads to de-conditioning and the de-conditioning results and more prolonged pain.  Do you see the downward spiral?  So how do we keep the pain from becoming chronic?

  1. Remain active
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Remember hurt doesn’t equal harm

If you are fearful, use a quota-based approach, gradually increase your activity in a step wise manner.  Limit activity by quota (set-reps) not pain.  Gradually encounter the things you fear and are safe and low load environment.  You can’t get over the fear of running by sitting on the ground, you get over it one step at a time!


  1. Bed rest may have harmful effects on back pain.
  2. The benefit of activity exceeds the risk the rest.  Swimming and walking are great for active recovery
  3. Hurt doesn’t equal harm.
  4. Flare-ups aren’t a failure they are expected.  Simple movements like a cat crawl or back bridge can immediately reduce symptoms.
  5. Exercise is the best way to prevent future back pain; however, 25% of patients fail at sticking to a plan.  What can you do to stay motivated?


Special thanks to Craig Liebenson for valuable insight


About doctoranthony
As a spinal rehabilitation specialist with over 7 years clinical experience in the areas of - Spinal Manipulative Therapy, Active & Passive Spinal Rehabilitation, Functional Movement and Orthopedic Assessment, Strength and Conditioning Coaching, Fitness Programming, Business Development, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing and Consultancy - you can feel safe knowing that I understand the worry and concern surrounding spinal pain. This is why self-efficacy lies at the heart of my practice. For more info: nz.linkedin.com/in/anthonyclose

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