Three Back Pain Myths That Only Make it Worse
1: You shouldn’t bend over to pick something up.
Most of us know that when you lift a heavy object, you should bend at the knees and then push up with your legs instead of bending your back. The muscles in our legs and bum are the largest and most powerful in the body, so it makes perfect sense to let them do the work rather than our back muscles, which can take far less load before becoming sprained or torn.
However, for many people this advice is so drilled into them that they’ll still squat down just to pick up a 20 gram pen. You may think it’s better to be safe than sorry, but if you never bend your back you’re depriving its muscles and ligaments of vital movement and stretching. If muscles go unused for too long, they’ll weaken or even switch off entirely.
That means, in the effort to reduce injury by never bending down, you’re actually making it worse. Weak or inhibited muscles won’t give your body the support it needs, putting your spine and all the structures attached to it at increased risk of injury.
So, always use your legs for heavy lifting, but the next time you drop your phone, you’re better off bending your back.
2: Sitting straight is better for your back
Posture is a tricky subject. While some postures are better for us than others in terms of muscle activation, the truth is staying in any position for too long can potentially lead to weakness, dysfunction and pain.
Take the classic “sit up straight” that you probably heard dozens of times a week back at school. Sitting up straight may make you seem more attentive, but it’s often no better for you than slouching because you’re constantly overextending your back, which puts stress through the facet joints in your spine. Over time, this can lead to overloading injuries.
The real best posture is ten different postures. Shift position in your seat as much as possible, stand up and walk around at least every half hour and practice some simple muscle activation exercises that you can do while seated without anyone even noticing. The more you’re moving your joints and waking up your muscles, the healthier your back will be.
3: Once the pain is gone, the problem’s gone
Nearly everyone will experience back pain at some point in their life, whether it’s due to an acute injury or gradual overloading from hours of desk work. Sometimes, this pain can become debilitating, while in many cases, it will simply go away by itself. But just because you’re not in pain anymore, doesn’t mean that you’re back to normal.
When a muscle or ligament is damaged, our body will compensate by shifting the load of our movements over to undamaged neighbouring structures, letting the affected tissue rest while it repairs. The problem is, sometimes these compensatory movement patterns remain even after the injury has healed, especially if you weren’t properly rehabilitated.
For many injuries, such compensatory movement patterns are obvious. Few people wouldn’t notice that they had a limp, for example, and would seek help to correct their walk. With our backs, however, it’s more difficult. Our backs contain more than 70 muscles over three layers, the deepest of which are very difficult to detect. Compensatory movement in the back can go undetected for years, gradually leading to potential weakness, dysfunction and injury if untreated.
That’s why it’s very important to have a complete physical assessment every few years and never leave pain untreated. No one – not even a physiotherapist – can accurately assess their own movement patterns and detect the subtle strengths and weaknesses of each individual muscle. It’s always easier and quicker to nip a problem in the bud before it develops into an injury.
If you’re having trouble getting over back pain, or have any questions I’d love to hear from you. To book an assessment get in touch with us now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, calling us on 020 7093 3499, or booking online.
Sports and Spinal Physiotherapist
B.Sc Physio, MSc, MCSP, MHCPC