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The Truth About Back Pain

People can often blame their pain on having wear and tear or disc bulges in their back. What people mightn’t realise,and what thousands of studies have shown, is that those WITHOUT back pain have similar levels of wear and tear and ‘disc bulging’ as those that HAVE back pain. When those WITHOUT back pain were put through a CT scan or MRI the statistics are quite clear and show surprising results:-

-At 20 years of age, 37% of people have ‘disc degeneration’, 30% have ‘disc bulging’

-At 50 years of age, 80% of people have ‘disc degeneration’, 60% have ‘disc bulging’

-At 80 years of age, 96% of people have ‘disc degeneration’, 84% have ‘disc bulging’

Remember, the statistics above are based on people that have NO back pain. So what we need to remember is wear and tear or disc bulging is a common part of ageing and it does not always relate to pain. Of all MRI’s taken, only 5% uncover a definitive causal link between degeneration and the back pain. Think of it this way;- we get wrinkles on our skin as we age, wear and tear or degeneration in our joints is simply a process of ageing too!  

So if we know people without pain have the same levels of degeneration and disc bulges in their spine as people who do have pain, what is actually causing the pain? Well, there are several reasons the first being some common misconceptions about the spine that have led people to believe that spines are easy to harm, vulnerable and need to be protected. There is also a common misconception that the spine is hard to heal. None of these are true. Your spine is actually the strongest joint in your body, it can take more load than you think. Constantly worrying or ‘protecting’ your back will lead to tensing up, if you are tense, your muscles are tense, tense muscles become sore muscles.

Other beliefs center around poor posture or poor lifting technique as a cause. Again there is little evidence to suggest the way we sit or stand or how we lift something causes lower back pain. So guess what? Slouching is not always a bad thing! What is not a good thing for your back is being stuck in one position. For example, too much sitting, be that slouching too much or sitting upright, even too much standing in one position can cause back pain. We are built to move and that is the key to preventing and rehabbing back pain. When we move our muscles are working, they are doing what they were built to do, move us around. When we don't move muscles over long periods of time those muscles will get tight and tight muscles will often get sore. 9 times out of 10, people who present to me in clinic simply have tight muscles as the root cause of their pain. Getting these muscles to relax will generally get you out of pain. This isn’t always easy as, chances are, the longer you have had the pain the longer it will take. Getting a good assessment to find out the driver of the pain is essential, this will allow your physiotherapist to design a bespoke treatment plan for you. Following these prescribed exercises and treatment protocols will ultimately get you out of pain and allow you to get back to doing the things that you love.

The exercise below can be very effective in stretching upper, mid back and lower back muscles.


1) Grab a door handle.

2) Place your feet about a foot and an half from the door

3) Allow yourself to fall back as far as you can slowly

4) You should feel a stretch from your shoulder to your lower back

5) Rotate your opposite hand across and reach across and down as far as you can

6) Do 5 deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth

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