If you have back pain, make sure you’re not inadvertently making your situation worse with the following common mistakes:
Mistake #1: Ignoring your pain for too long
While it's true that low back pain usually gets better within a few weeks, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore it. Pay attention to the pain and go to spine specialist to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. With a correct diagnosis, you can start an appropriate exercise regimen that will minimize future pain.
Mistake #2: Relying on your GP for too long
Primary care physicians and general practitioners don’t have in-depth training in spine medicine, so it may be harder to get an accurate diagnosis and/or treatment plan. If your back pain is severe and lasts for more than a couple of weeks, I recommend going to a doctor of chiropractic or a spine specialist – such as a physiatrist who specializes in treating back pain. Doing this sooner rather than later could help save you a lot of time, money and frustration in finding some pain relief.
Mistake #3: Jumping to surgery too quickly
For many, it’s tempting to view spine surgery as a "quick fix." However, with a few exceptions, it is typically recommended to try non-surgical treatment for at least several weeks or months before seeing a spine surgeon. While surgery can fix a specific anatomical problem, such as a disc pressing on a nerve, the only way to completely heal is through a sustained exercise and rehabilitation program. Even with surgery, you’ll need to exercise.
Mistake #4: Postponing back surgery for too long
On the other hand, for certain conditions patients tend to do better if they have surgery sooner. For example, when there is arm or leg pain and weakness because a nerve root is pinched, it is often best to take pressure off the nerve root through surgery sooner to avoid developing nerve problems.
Mistake #5: Focusing on the MRI results
Time and time again people e-mail me about their MRI scan results. But this does not mean there is a problem. However – and I can’t stress this enough – the scan is just a picture, it doesn’t show pain. In fact, you may have terrible pain and an MRI scan that shows a normal-looking spine, or you may have an MRI that shows a large herniated disc yet have no pain. You need the full clinical diagosis, and don't focus too much on just the MRI results.
Mistake #6: Staying still
This is probably the mistake I hear about most often: people with back pain staying as still as possible to avoid aggravating the back and triggering painful episodes. One or two days of doctor-recommended rest is fine, but over time lack of activity will in fact lead to more pain. Keeping your back and supporting structures flexible and strong means that they can better support your spine, hasten the healing process and minimize the chance of future pain or injury. The ab and back muscles don’t get much exercise from everyday activities and need specific exercises.
Most importantly, back pain is different for everyone, so trust yourself – and get educated about your situation – so you have the best chance of getting better quickly.