The back pain industry is big business. For people suffering chronic back pain, looking for any relief from symptoms could be costly with little results. Searching online is not any better. Gadgets, videos, expensive alternative therapies, among a few hundred more back pain solutions dominate the pages. Terrible back pain advice online is more about getting viewers than providing relief.
Before you get taken for an expensive ride, it’s important to learn about the worst back pain advice online [if you have a herniated disc, read here].
Understanding Back Pain by the Numbers
Take my warning seriously when I tell you to watch your back. If you suffer from back pain, whether acute or chronic, the industry wants you to fork over some serious cash. Unfortunately, the motives behind back pain relief are more for gaining profit than providing cure or symptom management.
To put this into perspective, it is necessary to first understand just how common back pain is. An astonishing 60 to 80 percent of Americans suffer from low back pain. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, it is the leading cause of disability and the second most common reason for doctor visits. In fact, nearly 60 million people in the United States have experienced symptoms related to low back pain in the last 90 days (Katz, 2006).
- 9 million Americans lost an average of 7.2 workdays because of back pain. That’s about 186.7 days total!
- The average cost of a worker’s compensation claim can range anywhere between $40,000 and $80,000 per injured employee.
With so many people in pain and so much money to be made, it’s no wonder such terrible advice for back pain and costly solutions are being sold online. When you are in so much pain, you would do almost anything to find relief —even spend thousands of dollars.
Worst Back Pain Advice
Many studies find that Americans are spending more money on back pain and getting little to no results. When you are searching for back pain advice online or in a doctor’s office, you should be aware of these five things.
1. The answer is surgery
When people suffer from low back pain, the first call is usually to their physician. I have seen articles that call physicians “diabolical,” stating that doctors are influenced only by money from big pharmaceutical companies when treating low back pain. This is not fair. Not all doctors put their own needs over their patients’ needs.
You’ll find many articles claiming that pharmaceutical companies treat physicians as middlemen to push their costly pain pills and surgical equipment. As a result, patients end up footing the bill. Is there a problem with overprescribing pain medication and surgeries? Yes. Is it greed and money from pharmaceutical companies? Maybe, but if you are going to state it as fact, show me the evidence.
As I said, I do agree that surgery is over-prescribed, especially in the case of low back pain.
Only about 5 percent of those who suffer from back pain actually need surgery. About 650,000 spinal surgeries are performed each year, costing about $20 billion in the US. Unfortunately, many of these surgeries fail to provide relief for several reasons, one being misdiagnosis.
If surgeons are unable to pinpoint the correct source of the pain or disability, surgery will not work. Instead of seeking other options for locating the point of pain, sufferers turn to more surgeries for relief. It doesn’t have to be like that.
Here is a little advice when considering surgery for back pain: get a second opinion. Never rely on the recommendation of one doctor when making the important decision to go under the knife. The other side of that, of course, is not having the expectation for surgery in your mind ahead of time. If one, two, or even three physicians tell you that you don’t need surgery, don’t keep looking for one who will say yes.
2. Get more rest and stay off your feet
Remember when your mother would tell you to rest when you are in pain? Up until a few short years ago, rest was also prescribed by doctors for low back pain.
Get off the couch!
If you suffer from low back pain, lying around is not the answer! Does it hurt when you force yourself to get up and move when you have low back pain? Yes. Should you cave and kick up your feet all day for relief? Not so fast. There are a few issues that arise when you lounge around to nurse your low back pain: you can become depressed, you don’t move the muscles in the back, and lying around can lead to further pain.
I am not saying you should run a marathon when you have back pain. I am asking you to reconsider the couch. Go for a walk instead. If you are lounging around because you are having trouble sleeping due to your back pain, use a pillow to adjust your sleeping position for some relief. Lie on your side with a pillow between your knees or on your back with a pillow as a bolster under your knees. When it is time to get up in the morning, do it. Don’t lie in bed all day. When getting out of bed, use the log roll method to reduce force on your spine.
Exercise is great for back pain, even if you don’t feel up to it. Exercise —not rest— should be done in a gradual and controlled manner. Regular exercises can prevent back pain as it makes your back stronger. It improves mobility and helps distribute important nutrients and oxygen to the muscles, ligaments, and joints. As always, I make the recommendation with a few words of caution. Not all exercises are good for for everyone experiencing back pain. Some exercises are bad for the back and can exacerbate symptoms. Your exercise plan must be one designed around your source of pain. Create your rehabilitation plan with your physical therapist, physician, or other spine specialist. Remember to always focus on form and technique when doing any exercises.
3. Herbal remedies
There is a fear among Americans about entering a medical professional’s office for any ailment. People are afraid to take pills, go under the knife, or even step foot in a pain management office.
I agree that overprescribing narcotics and other pain relief medications is a problem, but I also encourage you to err on the side of caution when you are looking for alternative therapies. Herbal remedies for back pain is a popular solution among many people who suffer from back pain. If you don’t want to pop a little aspirin for pain, there are other options. You can try ginger, cat’s claw, turmeric, and valerian root. These are just a few of your choices. Trust me, there are many more out there.
Every day, Americans ignore science and turn to alternative therapies or solutions. Somehow, anecdotal evidence and results someone posted on their blog or in a meme serve as evidence enough to convince back pain sufferers that they work. You want to talk about big money? Don’t think the herbal teas, powders, and supplements are raking in the dough. According to a 2015 article in the Washington Post, spending on supplements has exploded in the past 15 years. In 2000, spendings reached about $6 billion. In 2013, the number more than doubled to $13 billion.
What’s my issue with supplements? First, there are no studies to back up most of their claims. Second, many take supplements without consulting their doctor or informing their physician. You can have drug interactions while taking supplements or herbal remedies. “Natural” or “herbal” does not mean they won’t mess with your current medications or cause complications with an existing medical condition. In fact, that may be the only result you get. Finally, you cannot treat back pain by simply masking the symptom with any anti-pain medication. Certainly, if inflammation is the source of pain, then removing the inflammation can help. However, the effectiveness of herbal anti-inflammatories compared to NSAIDs hasn’t been shown.
4. All things yoga
Yoga is one of the most desired exercises for back pain relief. I am not only talking about yoga classes and YouTube videos. Yoga balls, yoga mats, and the yoga trapeze are all recommendations for treating and curing back pain.
Low back pain sufferers like yoga because they can bend, flex, and strengthen their backs for relief. Entire Pinterest pages are dedicated to all things yoga for back pain. All too often, untrained yogis offer medical advice and treatment plans for back pain without understanding important aspects of an individual’s pain, such as:
- What do you do for a living?
- Where is your pain?
- What is the source of the pain?
- Where are your areas of instability?
Yoga offers one-size-fits-all solutions for back pain, and as with anything else, back pain is not the same for everyone. Yoga can push and pull your body into unsafe positions that mimic relief but exacerbate injury and pain.
I found a few yoga moves and solutions that are especially concerning for those who suffer from back pain.
Recently, I saw a post titled “6 Office Yoga Moves.” The recommendations for relief involved an office chair and a lot of bending forward. They also included forward bends in the chair, spinal twists, and side stretches. All are unsafe for low back pain sufferers, especially if you sit in a chair all day. The last thing you want to do in a chair is bend forward and twist as your back is already getting too much flexion. Your hip flexors are tight and your glutes are mush.
What your back really needs is extension and gluteal activation. You cannot achieve this is the chair. Stand up and bend backwards 10 times. Don’t bend forward. Whatever you do, don’t twist your spine if you suffer from back pain.
Seated forward fold
This is a common recommendation for back pain. Again, you are going forward in this motion. Not to mention, your legs are extended out in front of you and your spine is rounded. This pose sets you up for pinched nerves and disc discomforts.
Boat pose, also known as paripurna navasana
If your back hurts when you do this pose, don’t listen when the instructor tells you that it is because you are strengthening your back. It hurts because this move does more harm than good. Take a good look at the boat pose. Your spine bears all the force of this pose. The more pain you are in, the better the more likely it is that your core will sink and your back will sag, increasing the pressure on your lower spine.
Yoga ball chair
Sellers of yoga ball chairs boast better posture, a stable core, and a stronger back, but they don’t work. There is no health benefit to sitting on a yoga ball for eight hours a day while you stare at a computer. Yoga balls don’t improve posture unless you are constantly thinking about your posture all day long. If you want a mini workout at your desk, ditch the chair and get moving.
This isn’t implying yoga is bad for the back or is bad. Yoga is a great form of general fitness and for some low back injuries it can be beneficial. Unfortunately, it isn’t a cure for most types of back pain.
What Can You Do About Low Back Pain?
To finally experience relief from low back pain, don’t give into the hype. Hang on to your money and make a few lifestyle changes. There are no miracle cures for low back pain without a lot of effort on your part. Changing your lifestyle and activity level is a lot easier than going under the knife. It’s also a lot safer than falling off your yoga ball at work. You will only find relief when you first identify the source of your low back pain and stick to a plan for recovery.
You are most at risk for low back pain if you are 30 years and older, you carry extra weight, you sit all day, you aren’t active, you stress, or you smoke. The three common causes of low back pain are:
- Work and sports
For most Americans, work is the culprit. Low back pain caused by too much sitting, standing, or bending leads to injury, but we want to stop short of going all the way to landing on the operating table. Low back pain is treatable without bogus cures, expensive equipment, and supplements.
It is key to get an individualized diagnosis and determine the root cause of your symptoms. The worst low back pain advice online are those general, one-thing-cures all advice. Instead, try physical therapy first to treat low back pain.
Physical therapy is just as effective as back surgery in treating low back pain, but it doesn’t come with the risk or the price tag. It also helps patients address the issues that cause the pain in the first place. Goals of physical therapy include diagnosing and treating individuals who experience pain, physical imbalances, disability, and limited range of motion. In addition, physical therapy restores optimal movement and health.
Learn about physical therapy at COR and our full-body approach to discover the root cause of your back pain. With COR, you will also learn about the necessary treatments to restore, progress, and prevent pain with each type of therapy. We do more than make you feel better. Together, we unlock the plan for improvement and lifelong back health.
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1. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: with special feature on socioeconomic status and health.
2. National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville; 2012