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Back Pain Myths

Provided by Kathy Shillue, physical therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

BACK PAIN MYTH #1: Heat is better than cold

Heat has been shown to be effective in providing short-term relief from back pain. Cold packs or ice packs can also be used for back pain, although there is less evidence of their effectiveness. The common advice used to be that ice should be used initially for acute injuries and heat for more chronic pain, because ice can help reduce swelling and spasm that come with acute injuries.

Some people feel that their muscle tension is reduced with heat, so we recommend using heat or ice for back pain, whichever one works better. People with circulatory problems or decreased sensation on the skin should be careful with heat because it can cause burns. Be aware that even mild heat can cause a burn if left on the skin for too long, so don't sleep with a heating pad on all night.

BACK PAIN MYTH #2: I just bent over and my back went out!

Unless you bent over to pick up a 50 lb box, it is unlikely that one movement caused a back injury. More likely, years of repetitive stresses, lack of exercise and degenerative changes to your spine left you vulnerable to the injury. You know the old saying "the straw that broke the camel's back?" You bend over tens of thousands of times in your life before you hit your limit and cause actual pain.

BACK PAIN MYTH #3: If I injured my back, why does my leg hurt?

Pain doesn't always occur in the same place as the injury. The nerves that carry pain signals end up in the spinal cord, but travel down to both arms and legs. An injury to the neck or cervical spine can produce pain in the arm and an injury to the lower back or lumbar spine can produce pain in the leg.

BACK PAIN MYTH #4: I am in too much pain to exercise

When your back hurts all you want to do is lay down and not move, but exercise and movement are important in your recovery and can actually aid the healing process. In fact, more than two or three days of bed rest can actually make the problem worse: your body will become de-conditioned, weaker and stiffer, and this can prolong your back pain. Even small movements and short periods of exercise or walking can be helpful.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Contact Information

Spine Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Shapiro Clinical Center, Second Floor
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617-754-9000
spinecenter@bidmc.harvard.edu

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