Just over a year ago I wrote an article for this magazine titled ‘The Myths of Back Pain’. In it, I discussed how it is okay to twist and bend despite all the health and safety advice, why you should be lifting heavy weights as part of your general health and exercise model, and why training to get a six-pack could be doing more harm than good.
In the clinic, I still hear people worrying about these things and I wanted to address some other common myths that crop up on an all-too-regular basis.
First, a quick recap…
Myth #1: Lifting heavy weights is bad
People often think heavy lifting is bad for the spine, but the research is quite clear that strength is a key player in the prevention of back pain. In order to get strong, lifting weights can be helpful, but it’s not necessary. If you don’t want to go to a gym, using your own body as a weight might be the answer. Certain movements in yoga and Pilates can be really tough! This sort of strength is good because it teaches you how to control your own body.
Myth #2: You shouldn’t bend and twist
Whenever people say they avoid bending and twisting, I think, ‘but you’re a human’! You should see the amazing anatomy we have interlacing through our body, specifically designed to perform at its best in a bend and twist.
Research has shown that those who limit their movements when reaching in the space around them are more likely to have back pain. Those who have more variability in their system have a lower incidence of pain.
Myth #3: Training your core prevents back pain
This myth specifically relates to movements like the sit-up which try to isolate the abs in an attempt to get the elusive six-pack. The evidence shows that doing too much of this type of training makes it more likely you will have back pain.
Of course, it is helpful to have strong core muscles, but they should be trained in a dynamic and integrated way that includes the hips and shoulder muscles. This helps build strength and control throughout the whole body.
So, onto the new ones.
The next myth is the most common one I encounter and it’s one I really want to nip in the bud:
Myth #4: If you have pain now you will have pain forever
This idea can be quite scary for people. When you have pain, it’s easy to think it will last forever or will get worse over time, but the vast majority of problems get better.
Pain is common after a certain age, but it’s not normal. Phrases in our language like, ‘it’s all downhill from forty’, or ‘it’s my age’ keep the candle of myth burning.
Rather than blame age, I prefer to blame habits. As long as we are alive our body has the ability to change. This is a process known as BIOPLASTICITY. Our body changes in response to a given stimulus, particularly the ones we do the most often.
So what stimulus are you giving your body? If it is a stimulus of a sedentary lifestyle, high carb diet and lack of stretching, your body’s response to that will be to tighten up and have pain.
If, however, the stimuli you give your body include a healthy diet to nourish the cells and regular stretching and exercise to gently and progressively test your body’s limits, it doesn’t matter what your age is, your body will respond positively.
Myth #5: Rest helps the back
When you are in pain, rest can feel the right thing to do. After all, moving hurts! The problem is, rest doesn’t accelerate healing, movement does.
In the clinic we use a couple of silly phrases; ‘movement is medicine‘ and my personal favourite, ‘motion is the lotion‘. Each time we take a step, our body creates a pump to draw in nutrients and squish away waste. This helps our immune system do its thing and create healing.
Sure, you should avoid sharp pain, but do as much as you can to keep mobile when injured.
All of this advice comes with the caveat that if you are worried about an injury you have, you should seek professional advice. Seeing someone like an osteopath would help you create an individualised plan to figure out the problem and get you back on the road to health.
If you would like to ask our team of osteopaths any questions, please get in touch by calling 01245 522360 or take a look around the rest of our website.
Yours in health! 🙂
See our back pain page for more information.