Back pain can have a big impact on your life—your family, hobbies, social life, and career. But being an informed patient can have a big effect on your outcomes and help you cope.

Rather than being standard, imaging tests may only be used in rare cases to confirm a back pain diagnosis.
Diagnosing the Cause of Lower Back Pain

With that in mind, we've compiled some little known insights into back pain that should be helpful as you navigate treatment:

1. Your level of pain does not equal injury or damage

People experience pain differently. An acute injury that causes excruciating pain to one person may cause little or no pain to another.

For example, a simple muscle injury may send a patient in the emergency room with excruciating pain, while a patient with a herniated disc may experience only mild, intermittent discomfort.

See Typical Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

Chronic back pain (pain lasting for 6 weeks or longer) is even more mysterious. Sometimes chronic pain persists even after the injury is healed.

See Types of Back Pain: Acute Pain, Chronic Pain, and Neuropathic Pain


2. Imaging tests do not equal a diagnosis

This point is counter-intuitive, but it's important to keep in mind: A degenerative disc or other abnormality that is seen on an imaging test like MRI or CT is not necessarily a cause of your back pain. In fact, many people have never had an episode of back pain, yet an imaging test may reveal they have a degenerated or herniated disc.

See Introduction to Diagnostic Studies for Back and Neck Pain

3. Activity and exercise is key

The right exercises or stretches can make a world of difference for their back pain. Following an episode of back pain, the last thing you may want to do is get up and move around. But after a day or 2 of rest to get past the worst of the pain, this is often the best thing that you can do for your back pain.

See Exercise and Fitness to Help Your Back

There are many low-impact options for ways you can keep moving despite back pain. Consider options like the following:

See Easy Exercise Program for Low Back Pain Relief

4. Disc degeneration is natural

Disc degeneration is a natural part of the aging process. With age, nearly all people will exhibit changes in their discs consistent with degeneration. However, not all people develop painful symptoms. While the disc degeneration is likely to get worse with age, the associated pain usually does not get worse and in fact usually gets better over time.

See How a Disc Becomes Painful

5. MRI scans are not always necessary

If disc degeneration is natural and imaging test results do not necessarily equal a diagnosis, is an MRI scan really necessary? Usually not. Most health professionals can develop a diagnosis and successful treatment approach based on a thorough medical history and physical examination.

See Do I Need an MRI Scan?

Heat therapy is soothing, easy to use, and can be done with a do-it-yourself heat pack. Watch Video: How to Make a Moist Heat Pack

6. Ice and heat therapy is easy and effective

Don't underestimate the impact of simply applying ice and heat to alleviate pain. Heat relaxes muscles and increases blood flow to the painful area. Ice numbs pain signals and decreases inflammation. Both therapies can be use at different times to help ease pain and stiffness. For example, using a heating pad before exercise can warm up your muscles, and then you can use ice afterward to prevent muscles soreness.

See Heat Therapy Cold Therapy

7. What's good for the body is good for the spine

Following a healthy overall lifestyle can greatly enhance your spine health. For example, quitting smoking helps the back heal and stay healthy. Getting a good night's sleep give you energy and a more positive outlook. A regular exercise program is essential and should be done at least three times a week. Daily hamstring stretching helps relieve undo pressure/stress to the lower back. Proper nutrition and stress relief can also help keep the back healthy.

See Food for Thought: Diet and Nutrition for a Healthy Back

8. Your brain can reduce your pain

Pain is not merely a sensation, like vision or touch, but the perception of back pain is actually strongly influenced by the ways in which your brain processes the pain signals.

See Chronic Pain As a Disease: Why Does It Still Hurt?

We are NOT saying the pain is all in your head, but it is important to realize that there are mental exercises you can do that have been clinically shown to reduce chronic pain. For example, skills can be developed to use your mind to achieve deep muscle relaxation, which in turn can help alleviate the associated pain.

See Chronic Pain Coping Techniques - Pain Management

Back pain can be hard to deal with, but with a little research and information, it doesn't have to be hard to understand.

Learn more:

A Healthy Weight for a Healthy Back

Ice Packs for Back Pain Relief