Back Pain Facts and Myths
Back pain is common — up to 80% of Canadians will experience back pain at least once in their adult life. Despite how common it is, a lot of misinformation exists about what causes back pain and what you should do about it. This article is intended to dispel some of the more common myths and provide an overview of how massage therapy can help people with back pain.
If you’re experiencing back pain, massage therapy may help you reduce your pain and get you back to doing the activities you love. If you have any questions or concerns about your back pain, ask your RMT how they can help.
It’s common to believe that back pain is caused by poor posture. From parents telling their children to sit up straight to the hundreds of articles you can find online touting the benefits of good posture, many people are quick to blame their posture for their pain.
There is no one posture that is superior, and a “normal” posture is whatever is normal for you. Humans are diverse and if you examined the standing posture of a lot of different people, you would have a hard time guessing who experiences back pain.
One thing that can contribute to causing back pain, rather than any specific posture, is staying in the same position for too long. It’s important to keep moving throughout the day – take breaks to stretch, change position or walk around. For recommendations of stretches or movement that might be most helpful for you, you can ask your RMT for advice.
You may have heard that you need an x-ray, CT scan or other imaging to diagnose your back pain. You may have even gotten this advice from a doctor. If you find any tears or nerve or disk issues, you may even believe that this means you are definitely destined to back pain.
Imaging may pick up regular age-related wear and tear, which may be misleading as the source of back pain. People who have tears, herniated disks or nerve compression show up on imaging don’t necessarily have back pain. Imaging also does not take into account any psychological or social issues that contribute to back pain, or any muscle tightness or weakness.
Most people who have back pain have non-specific back pain, meaning that the pain cannot be attributed to any specific disease or injury. There are a multitude of different factors that contribute to back pain, and imaging is unlikely to be able to pinpoint the cause of back pain for most people. For most people, imaging will also not help determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
The point above explained why imagining usually isn’t necessary and often isn’t helpful, but those who do have imaging such as MRIs done might believe that any abnormality they find will require surgery to correct.
Often things picked up by imaging such as herniated disks can gradually heal on their own over time. Most health professionals will recommend trying conservative treatments first, such as massage therapy or remedial exercise. Many studies have found that back surgery is no more effective than more conservative treatments for many people. This does not mean that surgery is never effective; it just means that most people who experience back pain do not need surgery, even if they show structural damage on imaging. When surgery is provided, it often isn’t particularly effective in reducing pain, and is not necessary for most people.
Many people with back pain don’t necessarily feel like exercising. They may have even been advised not to exercise by their families or friends. They may think bed rest is the best option for them, and fear that exercise will make their pain worse.
Research shows that regular exercise can actually help prevent back pain. Remaining physically active as much as possible and regularly stretching can also help relieve any back pain you may experience. Of course it’s important to not overdo it, but it’s important to keep moving within your tolerance levels. When you keep moving it makes you less likely to stiffen up and you can more easily avoid overcompensating with other muscle groups. When people take control of their health (like by exercising), they have better long-term outcomes. Bed rest can actually make you feel worse. It can make you feel stiffer and increase your pain. When you don’t move and bend, you can also lose muscle strength and flexibility. Exercise will also help to prevent acute back pain from becoming chronic.
How Massage Therapy Can Help
Research suggests that massage therapy can help reduce back pain, at least in the short term. Physicians now more than ever are recommending conservative treatments like massage therapy and exercise to help with back pain, and recommendations from the Canadian Medical Association reflect this preference for conservative treatment for back pain.
Massage therapy can be effective for treating both acute and chronic back pain. In addition to helping people reduce their back pain, massage therapy has also been found to help people with back pain increase their range of motion. This can help people continue to enjoy activities they love. and can help people with back pain reduce their pain, increase their function, and improve their quality of life.
If you’re suffering with back pain, ask your RMT what they can do to help.
Resource: Registered Massage Therapist of Ontario (RMTO) blog