Back Pain Part 1: Fallacies

Cycling Escapes Tour of UtahBack pain is no fun. Period. No one wants to hurt, no one wants to miss work and no one wants to freeze on an ice pack. Most people accept back pain as a part of aging, and have no idea where to start to try and avoid these aches and pains. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eight out of ten Americans will experience at least one bout of back pain during their lives. No wonder people give in! The NCCAM went on to say that back pain costs Americans $100 billion every year in lost wages. If your physical wellbeing and financial prosperity are on the line because of back pain, you need to take action and fix your back—now. Weeding through the jungle of misinformation is your first step to being free from back pain.

Mainstream Fallacies
“Never feel back pain again!” “Six-pack abs in no time!” “The newest thing in function training!” If you take anything away from this article, please take this: do not believe these lies. The human body is an absolute miracle, with literally trillions of cells that make larger structures that work together to create complete and perfect homeostasis – balance throughout your body. Time and time again, science smacks these “fitness gurus” in the face. Unfortunately, they have already bled Americans dry and the poor people still hurt. I have never seen a single piece of exercise equipment on an infomercial that is worth the box it comes in. Invest your money where it counts: high quality food, preventative healthcare, personal training if you need it and fun activities for you and your family.

Scientific Fallacies
The American Medical Association has missed the mark on health and fitness so many times it makes my head spin. Not surprisingly, they have botched the guidelines for back pain sufferers. When someone injures their back on the job, the AMA has created guidelines to determine when that person is fit to go back to work. If you have ever tweaked your back, you know how your entire midsection will seize and limit your spine’s range of motion. The AMA guideline for returning to work states that once you reestablish, or even gain more spinal extension, flexion and lateral flexion range of motion you are fit to go back to work.

These guidelines fail for two reasons: first, researchers at the University of Melbourne found that the measurements taken by different individuals of the same patient – during the same day – can differ up to 18%. That is a huge margin of error and should never be a trusted value in the scientific field. Second, having a large spinal range of motion is possibly the worst predictor of spine health and risk for injury. Dr. Stuart McGill, a biomechanics professor from Waterloo University, has dedicated his life to studying the causes of back pain and how to fix it. McGill has shown numerous times that there is a direct correlation between spine range of motion and risk for injury. His research shows very clearly that the more spinal range of motion you have, the higher your risk for injury. Shame on you, AMA.

New Age Fallacies
I want to give this section a very strong preface. I have absolutely nothing against yoga or Pilates. I practice each from time to time. I believe that they are wonderful methods of exercise and meditation. My problem lies in the “one size fits all” approach by many yoga and Pilates instructors. I have attended yoga classes with wonderful instructors who gave suggestions on how to tailor certain poses if you had difficulty with them. I have attended other classes with instructors who were more like dictators; if you couldn’t do the pose exactly the way it was supposed to be done, they would force you into it. My poor little hamstrings just about cried as the dictator pushed me too far and insisted the “spiritual benefit” would outweigh the physical pain. It didn’t.

The new agers will tell you that performing “100s” are the ultimate way to strengthen your core. The Pilates Reformer will be your best friend to loosen up those pesky tight hip muscles. They will say you must “Child’s Pose” for a prolonged period multiple times a day. This will “open up your spine to extra chi” –whatever that means.  Another common piece of advice is, “Rotate and stretch out your back every morning to ensure the best mobility throughout the day.” While some of these methods are beneficial, many of them can be downright detrimental to your spine health. The school of thought about your spine is changing. The traditional guidelines of strength, endurance, flexibility and power are all evolving as science moves forward. Out with the fallacies, in with the facts.  Stay tuned for part 2…

References: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Spinal Manipulation for Low-Back Pain,
 Spine: Reliability of the American Medical Association Guides’ Model for Measuring Spinal Range of Motion. Its Implication for Whole-Person Impairment RatingUltimate Back Fitness and Performance; Stuart McGill, Ph.D.

Originally posted 2013-08-07 12:15:47.

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