George Morris Physio Wigan.
A Common Back Pain Myth
Most people will at some point in their lives experience back pain. Because it is so widely experienced, there is an equally wide range of supposed causes for back pain and just as many cures and remedies.
For as long as we’ve had back pain, we’ve had myths about it, often as a result of misunderstanding cause and effect.
What I am going to tackle in this blog series are the myths that are widely believed by the average person & how they stack up against the latest evidence on the causes of back pain.
Today we start with myth one.
Back pain myth – Don’t bend your back
The most common back pain myth, one which is widely accepted as common sense, is that you shouldn’t bend your back when you pick something up.
Advising someone not to bend their spine is as absurd as advising them not to bend their elbow. Bending and twisting is what the spine is clearly adapted to do – just look at all those joints! If you’re just picking up a pen, unloading the dishwasher, or tidying a kids bedroom floor, there is absolutely no reason not to bend your back and utilise its flexibility.
An issue does arise when lifting heavy objects or lifting repetitively. In these instances we should be dividing the load between the legs and spine, using both to maximise power. With heavier loads, it is important to maintain a neutral spine where possible. That means you will use the strong glut and thigh muscles to assist the back muscles, such as in the photo.
However, a problem arises when people live their lives without bending their back at all, even for tasks the back is more than capable of taking on itself.
If I was to guess how this myth was born, it would be from people who already have sore backs bending their back and feeling pain, making them think that bending was the cause. As most people will at some point have back pain in their life, most will also encounter this situation.
But feeling pain upon movement doesn’t mean that movement is the cause. If I have a cut on my knuckle, I’ll avoid bending that finger so that the skin can heel. I won’t, however, avoid moving my finger for the rest of my life!
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what some people do. I’ve met many patients who have avoided bending their backs for years – sometimes decades. They didn’t even know they were doing anything wrong; they genuinely believed keeping their back straight was the healthiest option. They would pick a sock off the floor by performing a full squat and keeping their back straight. This should be avoided.
Much of the time, weak back muscles are the real culprit for pain felt when bending the lower back. The irony is, avoiding bending your back is exactly what makes back muscles weak in the first place, so you can see how easily someone can get caught in a vicious cycle here.
Now a word of caution: if you’re someone who has been keeping your back straight for years, you shouldn’t take this advice to mean that you can now safely pick up your 30kg luggage next time you’re on holiday.
Years of de-conditioning requires months (at least) of reconditioning, not to mention having to unlearn deeply ingrained bad habits