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8 myths that may be increasing your low back pain

Fitness and nutrition · Jun 9, 2021

Low back pain is the leading musculoskeletal complaint worldwide.1 Naturally, people often seek out answers to find relief — but the search often yields unhelpful results. In fact, misinformation about back pain can lead to more pain, disability, time off work, and medication overuse.2

Here are some common myths about low back pain that may be inhibiting your ability to feel better:

Myth 1: Low back pain is usually a serious medical condition

Persistent back pain can be very distressing, but it’s rarely a life threatening condition. Less than 1% of cases in primary care are due to specific spinal pathology.3

Myth 2: Low back pain will become persistent and deteriorate in later life

Aging does not cause back pain, and the research supports this:4 Staying active, managing stress, and eating a healthy, balanced diet can help protect against back pain at every age.

Myth 3: Persistent low back pain is always related to tissue damage

Your back is strong. If you have had an injury, the tissue healing time is around three months. If pain persists longer, it often means that there are contributing factors to the pain. If you have experienced waking up with low back pain or pain after a simple movement, the onset may be related to increased tension, stress, poor sleep, fatigue, inactivity, or activity you’re not used to.5 These factors may make your back more sensitive to pain, which triggers a protective pain response that is not necessarily due to damage.6

Myth 4: Scans are always needed to detect the cause of low back pain

Scans rarely show the complete cause of back pain.7 It's important to note that when you get a scan, your report will note any present disc bulges, arthritis, degeneration, etc. —  however, scans of individuals without pain can often reveal issues like these too.8

Myth 5: Pain related to exercise and movement is always a signal to stop or modify the activity

When pain persists past three months, the surrounding muscles become more sensitive to touch and movement. When you move and feel pain, it’s a byproduct of how sensitive your surrounding structures have become and not necessarily how much “damage” there is. It’s normal to feel some discomfort when you start to move and exercise again after an injury. And it’s very important to remind yourself that you are safe and gradually increase your activity with the support of a professional.

Myth 6: Lower back pain is the cause of weak core muscles, and we must brace our core at all times

Constantly bracing the core can be counterproductive: it can signal to your brain that you need to protect an injury, which can trigger an unwanted pain response. Working with an experienced physiotherapist can help make sure your body is well-supported.

Myth 7: Repeated spinal loading results in ‘wear and tear’ and tissue damage

The same way that exercise and resistance training make your muscles stronger, moving and loading the spine makes the back stronger and healthier. Activities like running, twisting, bending and lifting are safe if you start gradually and practice regularly. Our backs are actually one of the strongest structures in our bodies.

Myth 8: Pain flare ups are a sign of tissue damage and require rest

Pain flare ups can happen unexpectedly, but they are often not related to tissue damage. Common triggers are lack of sleep or poor sleep, stress, tension, low mood, inactivity or unaccustomed activity. Managing these triggers can help prevent exacerbations. If you do experience a flare up, it’s important to stay calm, move within your tolerance, and work with a physiotherapist if you can. Learn more about our physiotherapy services.


[1] Wu, Aimin et al. “Global low back pain prevalence and years lived with disability from 1990 to 2017: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017.” Annals of translational medicine vol. 8,6 (2020): 299. doi:10.21037/atm.2020.02.175

[2] O'Sullivan PB, Caneiro J, O'Sullivan K, et al Back to basics: 10 facts every person should know about back pain

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:698-699.

[3] Bardin LD, King P, Maher CG. Diagnostic triage for low back pain: a practical approach for primary care. Med J Aust. 2017 Apr 3;206(6):268-273. doi: 10.5694/mja16.00828. PMID: 28359011.

[4] O'Sullivan PB, Caneiro J, O'Sullivan K, et al

Back to basics: 10 facts every person should know about back pain

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:698-699.

[5] O'Sullivan PB, Caneiro J, O'Sullivan K, et al

Back to basics: 10 facts every person should know about back pain

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:698-699.

[6] O'Sullivan PB, Caneiro J, O'Sullivan K, et al

Back to basics: 10 facts every person should know about back pain

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:698-699.

[7]  Bardin LD, King P, Maher CG. Diagnostic triage for low back pain: a practical approach for primary care. Med J Aust. 2017 Apr 3;206(6):268-273. doi: 10.5694/mja16.00828. PMID: 28359011.

[8] O'Sullivan PB, Caneiro J, O'Sullivan K, et al

Back to basics: 10 facts every person should know about back pain

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:698-699.

Authored by:
Kosta Ikonomou
physiotherapist

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