10 Common Questions About Back Pain

Physical Therapist Answers 10 Common Questions About Back Pain

1. Is there a way I can prevent back pain?

It’s as simple as reframing the question this way… “Are there people that never suffer back pain in their lifetime”. The answer may surprise you that 75 to 84% of people will have an episode of back pain in their life. I think this is great news! What has never been done is to do a study in this 16 to 25% of population without back pain to see if there are commonalities that we may be able to follow. 

Here is what I suspect this group may be doing, and what you may consider to give yourself the best chance to jump into the 16-25%

  1. Managing body weight
  2. Daily exercise with 6-10,000 steps a day
  3. Frequently moving the spine through its range of motion
  4. Rarely sitting longer than 1 hour at a time
  5. Not smoking
  6. Eating a well balanced diet that supports connective tissue and limits acidity/inflammation 

2. If my back hurts, should I limit my mobility?

Oftentimes people think, “my back hurts because something is broken inside of me.” “These people deeply believe they did something to compromise their spine structurally, and they shouldn’t move until it’s fixed. This is rarely the case.

What happens in periods of immobility is that the joints become stiff, or “locked-up”, and the muscles don’t get challenged with even simple daily activity and become weaker.

Invariably, you can’t keep avoiding things throughout your life; your focus should be to make yourself less fragile.

3. Will a standing desk improve my back pain?

This would depend on the type of back problem that you have. It is not uncommon for clients to report that prolonged standing is an aggravating factor to their specific problem. 

However, if you are dealing with a classic back pain caused by the intervertebral disc, then YES a standing desk will help you.

Most people buy the ‘ergonomic chair’ thinking they can now do all the sitting they want. Certainly it can help, but just like you can’t outrun a bad diet, you can’t out “ergonomic” too much sitting. Our rule of thumb is to stand 1 minute for every 20 minutes sitting, as postural muscles generally only have 20 minutes of endurance. But even that isn’t enough without incorporating back strengthening activity into your routine.”

4. Will laying on the ground help with back pain?

Laying on the ground can certainly help alleviate back pain. The pressure in your lower back is lowest while lying flat on your back as gravity is no longer compressing you which can cause the release in pressure.

  1. Does milk actually make your bones stronger?

Oof.. Back and forth we go with this question. Maybe. Yes calcium and vitamin D together have been shown to fortify the bones. There is some reasonably strong evidence to suggest that cows milk, as it is foreign to us humans, causes an inflammatory response in the gut. For some people it is worse than others. Inflammation causes acidity in the body and the body must buffer the acidity. One of the substances that increases pH and brings the blood back to it’s normal average pH of 7.40 is calcium. So it is conceivable that milk could make bones weaker. The jury is still out on this one. My advice is to find a quality plant source of calcium in the meantime.

6. Are there any vitamins I can take to help with back pain?

Since the FDA doesn’t regulate the supplement industry, the following statements are anecdotal findings, and haven’t been ‘proven’.

We’ve recommended a host of individual products in the past, but now have been working with Whole Potential Living’s Joint Nutra Care product for some time, and our clients have reported positive results from taking them.

Here is a partial list if you want to try to source some of the ingredients in the JNC product. If you can find supplements that contain Collegen types I, II, V and X, hyaluronic acid, hydroxytyrosol, MSM, Astaxanthine, boron, turmeric, bromelain, papain, ginger root, mangosteen, copper, and zinc, Then you’ve got a good start. 

7. How can I relieve back pain in the car?

On long drives, if you can use the rest area and move around, or find strategic stopping points to break up being in the seat it will help.

The same ergonomics apply in your car as at your desk. If you begin to slouch, you will be in pain. And a simple lumbar roll or support to prevent the slouch can help. 

8. What stretch should I not do for back pain?

Most people mistakenly think back pain is caused by tight hamstrings. Tight hamstrings are caused by back pain, and you can’t fix any problem at the effect level, only the cause. It takes a skilled clinician to be able to identify root causes and prescribe only the right regimen to fix the problem.

9. How do I know if I need back surgery?

This is always the worst case scenario, and for reference I have treated clients with all of these symptoms and they have recovered without surgery. 

-Loss of bowel and bladder control

-Numbness in the genitalia and ‘saddle region’

-Inability to lift the foot at the ankle – foot drop

-Loss of mobility-  can’t roll over in bed, sit up or lie down, get in/out of a car

-Intractable pain. Nothing makes it better, and is preventing you from sleep

10. What if I tried physical therapy before and I’m still in pain?

There are good and bad in every profession. “What do you call a doctor that graduated last in his class? …. Doctor.  It’s just not possible to expect that if you tried physical therapy with one office, or one physical therapist that the experience will be the same at the next office. Each PT has their own strengths and tool box that they have developed in their career. 

If you didn’t get what you needed at the first place you tried, when it comes to back pain… NEVER GIVE UP!


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