Myths around BACK PAIN

Back Pain Myth Busters

Back pain is so prevalent that it costs the country more than diabetes and cancer combined, but there are many misconceptions circulating about back pain. Scientific research in the area of back pain has progressed greatly in recent times and it is challenging widespread beliefs held about back pain  – that is the greatest challenge for physiotherapists.

Common myths we hear in the clinic on a daily basis are:

– I can’t move much because that will make my back pain worse.

– I avoid exercise because that will aggravate my back pain

– I need a scan to see exactly what’s wrong

– There must be serious damage because the pain is so bad

– Mood and stress levels have no influence on my recovery


Myth – Moving will make my back pain worse.

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. This is not a new concept by any means, but it is an unfortunate misconception.


Myth – I should avoid exercise, especially weight training

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.

All types of exercise are good, with no major differences in effectiveness between them – so pick one you enjoy, can afford and which is convenient.

Walking, using the stairs, cycling, jogging, running and stretching are all good and help relax all the tense muscles in your body.

When you are in pain, starting exercise can be very hard. Under-used muscles feel more pain than healthy muscles. Therefore, if feeling sore after exercise, this does not indicate harm or damage to the body.

If you are unsure about what exercise to do come and talk to us 045-866075

Myth – A scan will tell me exactly what’s wrong

Both healthcare professionals and members of the public often consider getting a scan “just in case” there is something serious involved in their pain. However, all the evidence suggests scans only show something truly important in a tiny minority (<5%) of people with back pain.  Even people without back pain have changes in their spine so scans can cause fear which influences behaviour, sometimes making the problem worse.  A consultation with your GP or Chartered Physiotherapist will usually be able to identify if a scan is really needed based on a person’s symptoms and medical history.


Myth – Pain equals damage

It may sound strange, but we now know that more pain does not always mean more damage. Ultimately, 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. For example, an athlete or soldier may not experience much pain after injury until later when they are in a less intense environment.

Our nervous system has the ability to regulate how much pain a person feels at any given time. If a person has back pain it might be that their nervous system has become hypersensitive and is causing the person to experience pain, even though the initial strain or sprain has healed.

This can mean the person feels more pain when they move or try to do something, even though they are not damaging their spine.

Once people with back pain can distinguish between the ‘hurt’ they are feeling from any concerns about ‘harm’ being done to their back, it is easier to participate in treatment.


Myth – Mood and stress levels have no influence on my recovery

Stress, low mood and worry influence back pain and recovery. 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.

In the same way that these factors are linked to other health conditions like cold sores, irritable bowel syndrome and tiredness, they have a very large effect on back pain.

As a result, managing our stress, mood and anxiety levels through doing things we enjoy, and engaging in relaxation can be really beneficial in helping back pain.

If you are unsure of any of the above or need further explanation please contact one of our physiotherapists for a consultation 045-866075 or book on-line at




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