10 facts about back pain

1 Back pain is common

Back pain can be very painful and worrying, but is very common and rarely dangerous. 84% of people worldwide will experience back pain at some point, being equally common across all age groups.

2 Scans for back pain are rarely needed and can be harmful

Scans are only needed when a serious condition is suspected (cancer, fracture, infection), only 1% of all back pain worldwide. Scans will almost always show something and it is poorly linked with back pain. Many of these findings are common in people without pain.

3 The back is not that vulnerable to damage

Most people think the spine needs to be protected. Scientific research has shown that back structures do not go ‘out of place’ or ‘slip’. This is incorrect and has led to fear, protective guarding, avoidance and disability.

4 The back is designed for bending and lifting

In the same way that a person can get a sore knee after doing an unaccustomed activity, people can get back pain when they lift something awkwardly or something that they aren’t used to. The key thing is practice and letting your body get used to different loads and weights.

5 You can have back pain without back damage or injury

Pain can be turned up by many factors: physical, psychological, health, lifestyle and social factors. This means that you may feel more pain when you move or try to do something, even though you are not damaging your back

6 Don’t take back pain lying down and don’t rush for surgery

There is very strong evidence that keeping active and returning to all usual activities gradually is important in aiding recovery. Surgery is rarely an option for back pain. A non-surgical option, which includes activity/exercise, should always come first.

7 Exercise is good for back pain but people are often afraid

Exercise is helpful for back pain, and the best is the type you enjoy. More than 30 minutes per day has the greatest health benefits, but any amount you can manage will result in benefit.

8 Strong meds don’t have strong benefits for back pain

Scientific research has shown that strong painkillers don’t provide greater pain relief over simpler options, and actually have greater potential for harm

9 Buyer beware: Internet, fads, fashion and bandwagons

A lot of things have not yet been tested so you are potentially just wasting your money, and when they have been tested the results are unimpressive

10 Back pain can get better

Of course, you can injure your back, but be confident that it will get better


This post has been translated to Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan and Finnish here.

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