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Common Back Pain Myths – The 5 Most Common Misconceptions

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Written by Alex Petrović

Sleep Consultant

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14 December 2023 5 min read

When it comes to your health, being informed is one of the best tools in your arsenal. So, today we're going to discuss a few common back pain myths and see what actually causes back pain.

While cartoons would have you believe that only people over 100 years old have back pain, the fact of the matter is that just about anyone can have aches in their back. In fact, in the UK, between 16 and 19% of people suffer from back pain.

But how can you avoid it, or at least minimise the odds of having back pain? And do you actually know what's good for your back and what isn't? Well, let's talk about that. We're going to go over the 5 most common back pain myths and then discuss what you can do to keep your back strong and pain-free!

Myth 1: Rest is best

An image of a woman resting in bed

While resting can definitely ease back pain in some scenarios, it's not always your best option. This is especially true if you have a very sedentary lifestyle.

After all, if it has been a few weeks since you last had some form of exercise, bed rest is the last thing you need.

Plus, when it comes to certain injuries, bed rest can make the pain worse.

For example, if you have spinal nerve compression or issues with your spinal discs, lying down can lead to your muscles tightening, leading to more pain than before.

In other words, if you just have a pulled back muscle or have been hunched over, lying down shouldn't cause further issues.

However, more often than not, low-impact exercises like walking or swimming will be better for you overall.

Myth 2: Working out is bad for your back

An image of a woman working out

While it's certainly possible to injure your back in the gym, working out is generally good for your back health (and even your sleep quality).

This is because, when doing exercises with the proper form, you can strengthen your back muscles and make them more resilient.

This is especially true for your lower back as quite a few people pick up heavy objects by bending over, instead of using their legs, leading to lower back pain in the morning.

However, once those muscles are strong and you know the proper form, lifting heavier objects shouldn't cause any type of discomfort.

Myth 3: Back pain is always caused by an injury

For hypochondriacs – this is among the most common back pain myths. While severe back pain can be a sign to sound the alarm, it's usually a lot more mundane. Acute low back pain is usually just a sign of bad posture or muscle strain. And pain throughout your entire back could just be due to having a bad mattress or sleeping funny.

However, if you have chronic back pain, your back is very sensitive to the touch, and the pain is severe, it's more likely that you've injured your spinal nerves, discs, or joints.

Myth 4: Young people don't have back pain

While issues with spinal facet joints or a lumbar herniated disc are more common in people over 40, young people can still experience back pain. Said pain is usually associated with improper posture, incorrect lifting technique, and similar injuries.

So, don't think that just because you're in your 20s you can disregard your form when lifting something heavy or sleep on the floor. While it's true that young people recover quite quickly, they are by no means immune to back pain.

Myth 5: A firm mattress is always the best option

An image of a firm mattress

Lastly, we have to talk about what we know best – mattresses.

When it comes to mattress firmness and back pain, it's a bit more complicated than some might want it to be.

Namely, how firm your mattress needs to be depends on your sleeping position and your weight.

This is because, the softer the mattress, the easier it is for your body to sink into it.

So, a side sleeper who's very light actually needs a very soft mattress that can allow their hip and shoulder to sink so that their spine can remain straight.

However, a heavier stomach sleeper will need a very firm mattress so that their pelvis doesn't sink into the mattress, leaving their spine curved forward.

And a back sleeper might need something in the middle. You can look at the table below to see which mattress firmness would be ideal for you.

An infographic showcasing different mattress firmness levels

How to prevent having back pain

Certain types of back pain can't always be prevented. For example, if they're caused by a serious underlying condition such as a spinal cord compression caused by some cancers or an injury, such as a severely herniated disc causing cauda equina syndrome.

However, there are also a few lifestyle modifications that you can make to at least lower the odds of having back pain – especially if you're young. So, let's go over a few prevention methods for back pain.

Moderate workouts

While a 400-pound improper deadlift can put too much stress on the sensitive inner structures of your body, moderate workouts can only help. Daily walks, stretches, and light to moderate weightlifting with a focus on form can all help make your back stronger.

And by strengthening your back muscles, you'll be a lot less likely to hurt yourself when you do have to pick up a heavier object. Plus, as we'll see in a bit, fitness can help deal with other factors that can cause back pain – such as excess weight.

So, while you still might get the occasional pulled muscle, as long as you focus on proper form, stay consistent, and stick to weights your body can handle, you'll be golden.

Losing weight

An image of a woman showcasing that she has lost weight

Carrying around excess weight puts a lot of strain on your back.

And, over the long run, this can lead to lower back pain and, according to some studies, even lumbar disc degeneration.

Not to mention that conditions such as obesity also affect your sleep and many other aspects of your health.

So, if possible, see a health care professional or a nutritionist, and see whether you should potentially lose some weight.

We're not saying that you need to be pencil thin but rather that it's important to remain within the healthy weight span for your build and size.

Stop smoking

Things such as lumbar disc degeneration can actually be caused by smoking. On top of that, your odds of developing cancer also increase, as well as the odds of being overweight. In other words, not only can smoking directly cause back pain, but it also influences many other factors that can cause back pain as well.

Having good posture

While everyone knows that bad posture can cause back pain, many people still ignore this fact. However, proper posture is now even more important than before, with a large percentage of people sitting down throughout the day.

So, try not to hunch over but rather press your back to your chair. Bonus points if your chair has proper lumbar support. Make sure your feet are flat on the ground and that your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Now relax your shoulders and have your arms be at a 90-degree angle as well.

There are also lifestyle modifications you can make that can help with your posture:

An infographic showcasing proper sitting posture

How to deal with back pain

If you're just dealing with acute back pain, it will likely go away on its own. However, taking a relaxing walk is going to be a lot more helpful than lying down in this case. Applying an ice pack or a thermos can also help with back pain, depending on what's causing it.

And if the spot itself isn't tender but rather a pulled muscle, a good massage can do wonders as well. However, if you're dealing with chronic back pain or think it might be an injury, seek professional help as quickly as you can. At the very least, they can prescribe medication to dull the pain.

Conclusion

There are a lot of common back pain myths. It's a lot more common than most of us would like it to be and just staying in bed isn't exactly the best idea. However, if you have a healthy lifestyle and consult your doctor when needed, back pain is something you can usually deal with.

But let us know in the comments if you've heard of any back pain myths we haven't covered and we'll try to straighten things out as quickly as we can.

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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