5 things you didn’t know about back pain

1. Back pain is common and normal

Eighty-five percent of people will experience an episode of back pain at some point in their lifetime. Importantly, how we feel can influence the amount of pain we feel, stress, low mood, catastrophisation and worry influence back pain.

2. Scans are rarely needed

Both practitioners and members of the public often consider getting a scan to see if something serious is causing their pain. However, all the evidence suggests scans does not provide us with any credible information about back pain or the associated impairments. An appointment with an evidence based allied health practitioner (musculoskeletal chiropractor, physiotherapist) will usually be able to identify, if a scan is really warranted (based on your symptoms and impairments).

3. Bed rest is not helpful

In the first few days after the initial injury, avoiding aggravating activities may help to relieve pain, however, there is very strong evidence that early movement and loading is important in stimulating repair and recovery.

Therefore, prolonged bed rest is unhelpful, and is associated with higher levels of pain, greater disability, poorer recovery and longer absence from work. In fact, it appears that the longer a person stays immobile because of back pain, the worse the pain becomes.

4. Poor sleep influences back pain

We know that poor sleep can make us more stressed, give us a headache, make us tired or irritable and this can also cause or prolong back pain. Improving sleeping routines or seeking passive interventions to reduce pain to help with sleep can be very helpful in reducing back pain.

5. Exercise is good and safe

Movement is medicine whether we are healthy or impaired, but the majority of people avoid it as they think it may cause them more problems. We now know that regular movement helps to reduce pain and discomfort, relax tight muscles, helps improve mood and enhances our resilience and tolerance to our activities of daily living. There may be some movements you need to avoid in the acute phase, such as prolonged sitting or bending whilst loading, and your practitioner will be able to assess your impairment level and advise you accordingly.