Osteopath and Director Dr Oliver Thomson PhD, has been treating and managing patients with back pain at the clinic for over 11 years. Below he outlines his top 10 tips to help dispel common myths and ensure a swift recovery.
Keep calm… -Although back pain can be very unpleasant and distressing, fortunately most episodes are short-term and rarely due to any serious damage or disease.
Carry on - Changing how you move during the first few days following the start of back pain is inevitable and generally fine. However, avoiding common everyday movements because of pain (e.g. walking, lifting and bending differently or less) for a prolonged period can slow recovery. So be positive and keep active. Backs love to move, even painful ones
Don’t be scared stiff - How you think about your back pain can influence your recovery. Excessively focusing your thoughts on the 'damaged' parts of your spine (such as the joints or discs) can worsen levels of pain and anxiety; which in turn makes you less likely to move and keep active (see tip #2). We literally become ‘scared stiff’. Avoid this vicious cycle by thinking of your back pain as being due to ‘sensitivity’ of the spinal tissues rather than them being ‘damaged’
Don’t believe the hype - There's lots of misinformation, bad advice and myths regarding back pain on the web and in the media. Much of this information isn’t supported by research, and just leads to scaremongering. Be aware and be critical.
You are strong - Backs are difficult to damage. They’re robust and designed to bend, twist and carry heavy loads. Back pain doesn’t mean your spine is ‘weak’ or ‘vulnerable’ or that you have a ‘weak core’. Have confidence and trust your back.
Don't over complicate it - All forms of exercise are helpful for back pain, and rarely are specific exercises 'out of bounds' with back pain. So, whether it's Pilates, running, swimming or tennis- the key to recovery is just getting active and moving the body, and if you enjoy it that's even better.
You are more than just a pretty picture - Despite a common belief, scans (MRI and X-ray) are rarely helpful in most cases of back pain. However, with the spread of private health insurance, scanning is becoming more and more common. As we age, it’s entirely normal to see changes to the discs and joints of the spine on a scan. These changes have little relationship to the symptoms or level of back pain. In fact, just seeing the scan images or reading the scan report can create unnecessary fear and anxiety which further delays recovery (see tip #3).
One size doesn’t fit all- There are many different treatments for back pain; some work better than others for different people. There's no magic bullet that works for everyone. However, physical activity should be central to any treatment programme. Combining exercise/activity with manual therapy (e.g. osteopathy) is a good place to start.
Patience is a virtue - The journey to recovery from back pain is often rocky. Be prepared for ups and downs in your levels of pain and mobility. It's more helpful to view improvements over a longer period of time (a week or two) rather than day-by-day.
Don’t worry, be happy- If you’re worried about your back pain, then book an appointment with an osteopath to help provide an effective diagnosis, advice, and treatment.