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15 Things You Did Not Know About Back Pain

1. Back Pain is common and normal

Eighty percent of people will experience an episode of back pain during their lifetime. Most acute back pain is the result of simple strains or sprains and the prognosis is excellent. Within the first two weeks of an acute episode of pain, most people will report a significant improvement in their symptoms with almost 85pc of people fully recovered by three months

2. Scans are rarely needed

Evidence suggests scans only show something truly important in a tiny minority (<5%) of people with back pain.

3. Interpreting scans should come with a health warning

Studies have shown that even people who don't have back pain have things like bulging discs (52% of people), degenerated or black discs (90%), herniated discs (28%) and 'arthritic' changes visible (38%). Remember, these people do NOT have pain! The fact is that many of these things reported on scans are more like baldness - an indication of ageing and genetics that do not have to be painful.

4. Back pain is not caused by something being out of place

There is no evidence that back pain is caused by a bone or joint in the back being out of place, or your pelvis being out of alignment. For most people with back pain, scans do not show any evidence of discs, bones or joints being 'out of place'.

5. Bed rest is not helpful

In the first few days after the initial injury, avoiding aggravating activities may help to relieve pain, similar to pain in any other part of the body, such as a sprained ankle. However, there is very strong evidence that keeping active and returning to all usual activities gradually, including work and hobbies, is important in aiding recovery.

6. More back pain does not mean more back damage

Two individuals with the same injury can feel different amounts of pain. The degree of pain felt can vary according to a number of factors, including the situation in which the pain occurs, previous pain experiences, your mood, fears, fitness, stress levels and coping style.

7. Surgery is rarely needed

Only a tiny proportion of people with back pain require surgery. Most people with back pain can manage it by staying active, developing a better understanding about what pain means, and identifying the factors which are involved in their pain. On average, the results for spinal surgery are no better in the medium and long-term than non-surgical interventions, such as exercise.

8. Schoolbags are safe - worrying about schoolbags might not be

Research studies have not found this link, revealing no differences in schoolbag weight between those children who do and do not go on to develop back pain

9. The perfect sitting posture may not exist

Contrary to popular belief, no specific static sitting posture has been shown to prevent or reduce back pain. Different sitting postures suit different people, with some people reporting more pain from sitting straight, others from slouching. The ability to vary our posture is important for people with back pain.

10. Lifting and bending are safe

Contrary to common belief, the research to date has not supported a consistent association between any of these factors and back pain.

11. Avoiding activities and moving carefully does not help in the long-term

It is common, especially during the first few days of back pain, that your movement can be significantly altered. This is similar to limping after spraining your ankle, and generally resolves as the pain settles. While initially hard, getting back doing valued activities which are painful, or feared, is important. Many people, after an episode of back pain, can begin to move differently due to a fear of pain or a belief that the activity is dangerous. Such altered movement can be unhealthy in the long term and can actually increase the strain on your back.

12. Poor sleep influences back pain

When someone has pain, a good night's sleep can be hard to get. However, it works both ways as sleep problems can lead to back pain in the future. Improving sleeping routine and habits can be very helpful in reducing pain.

13. Stress, low mood and worry influence back pain

How we feel can influence the amount of pain we feel. Back pain can be triggered following changes in life stress, mood or anxiety levels. Managing our stress, mood and anxiety levels through doing things we enjoy, and engaging in relaxation can be really beneficial in helping back pain.

14. Exercise is good and safe

Many people with pain are afraid of exercise and avoid it as they think it may cause them more problems. However this is not true! We now know that regular exercise helps to keep you and your body fit and healthy, and actually reduces pain and discomfort. It relaxes muscle tension, helps mood and strengthens the immune system once started gradually.

15. Persistent back pain CAN get better

By identifying the different contributing factors for each individual and trying to address them, pain can be significantly reduced and people can live a happier and healthier life.

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