Back Pain Myths

23rd December 2020

  1. Back pain is due to tight hamstringsAbout 30 years ago it was thought that tight hamstrings ‘pulled’ on the lower back causing pain, and stretching the hamstrings would relieve the problem. Tight hamstrings are common in men and therefore you would think that lower back pain would be more common in men. This is not true and the split is about 50:50 between male/female sufferers. Stretching the hamstrings can give you temporary relief as the stretch also stretches your back and helps relieve back muscle tension. This is only a temporary fix and will not last. I have seen patients on many occasions with very tight hamstrings who have never had low back pain.
  2. Having an X-Ray or MRI will reveal my back problem.  MRI and X-Rays have their uses to help with a diagnosis, but they are only a picture of your spine and nothing more. The majority of back pain sufferers have ‘mechanical back pain’, which is due excessive strain placed on the spine which does not show on these investigations. Even if a disc injury is revealed on MRI , this does not mean that this is the cause of your pain. I remember speaking to a retired Radiologist years ago. When he was working MRI had just been invented and was being installed into hospitals. They found that in patients who had no back pain but were being investigated for another problem, often showed disc degeneration or even a small disc prolapse but no symptoms.
  3. Back pain is hereditary.  Back pain is common and for this reason it may seem like it can be inherited. One reason it seems like it runs in a family is children often copy parents bad habits and lifestyles. Some of these habits and lifestyles may aggravate anyone’s back and so later in life, your children can develop back problems.  This is why people in the same family can developed back pain.
  4. My gym / home exercise program will get rid of my back pain. The key here is doing the right workouts for you and not exercise that is aggravating the problem. Exercise is a good idea and in general as a nation we do not do enough, especially at the moment. I still see patients who exercise regularly but are suffering still. You have heard it before I am sure, but good exercise technique will allow you to exercise without aggravating your lower back pain. One common mistake is to not allow yourself recovery time after exercise. Do you know when you get stronger, while you are resting / recovering. That is why much of the research into high level exercise is being directed at finding the most effective and quickest ways to recover.
  5. Stretching is good for low back pain.  I used to think this when I first qualified, but when patients who were very fit and very flexible were coming to see me with low back pain, I started to wonder if this was a myth. Stretching makes you feel good as it stimulates the nerves found in your muscles and joints. A good stretch sends feedback to the brain saying ‘ I’m being used / stretched/ and it feels good. I think we can over emphasise and spend too much time stretching. It feels good (usually!) and that is why we do it. Becoming more  flexible might make your muscles work harder to keep you upright. So like everything in life there is a balance to be had.  Well sort of, we benefit from flexibility, strength, and good balance, and most importantly we benefit from how well we can coordinate all these factors into smooth movements, this is called mobility and I think it is the most important factor to help our physical and mental health.
  6. Age: As we get older we change physically, but there is no reason not to maintain our mobility. To minimise the physical effects of age, maintain some variety in your activities. By varying how quickly we walk / cycle/swim / preferred exercise,  maintains our mobility and general fitness.