Following our earlier blog around low back pain, we thought we’d discuss some of the myths, misnomers, and misunderstandings surrounding the low back that we encounter on a regular basis:
“My Dr. said I slipped a disc” – This one’s pretty common, and it usually refers to either an intervertebral disc protrusion, or more commonly a disc herniation. A protrusion occurs when the inside bits of the disc (nucleus pulposus) allegedly push up against the outer walls, while a herniation occurs when the inside substance of the disc pokes its head out to have a look around.
As you can tell, in either case, the disc doesn’t slip and go walkabout, making it a bit of a poor label and creating a poor understanding of what’s actually happening at the tissue. Disc protrusions and herniations are relatively common after a certain age and don’t necessarily correlate with pain and dysfunction so don’t take it as a death sentence either!
“They said my vertebra is out of place” or “my back is out of alignment” – Although the back may seem a bit wobbly at times, the chances of vertebrae shifting “out of place” in regular everyday life are pretty slim to none. It would take a pretty big trauma to dislocate a vertebrae, which would quickly be followed by a trip to A&E.
As far as alignment goes, everybody is different. There is no perfect posture or alignment that has been found to date. Sometimes the postures you prefer or hold may exacerbate some of the discomfort you’re feeling, however it doesn’t mean it’s the cause or sole solution. Some alignments again my predispose you to carry tension in certain areas or put you at a mechanical disadvantage, however again this is quite normal and finding someone who it perfectly symmetrical is uber rare.
“You have degenerative disc disease/ your back is degrading” – This expression isn’t as much a myth as it is a poor choice of wording. Many people are told that they have degenerative disc disease, or their disc spaces are narrowing, without being given any context. Degenerative disc disease is a term explaining the normal age-related narrowing of the intervertebral disc spaces between the vertebrae. As we age, the discs will shrink in size and the cavity wherein they’re located will deepen slightly. All together this leads to a smaller space between the vertebrae on x-ray. This is as normal as grey hair in anyone over a certain age, the only difference being that we don’t get to see the inside of our back and watch the process of aging unfold. Studies (examples here and here) have shown that abnormalities in the low back are normal, and quite often aren’t associated with pain. So next time you hear the term degenerative disc disease, don’t stress, it’s as common as a grey hair or a wrinkle after a certain age.
There are just a few of the myths and misunderstandings that we hear when it comes to the low back, so hopefully next time you hear someone talking about their slipped disc or crumbling back, you’ll point them to this blog so they can better understand what’s the issue with their tissue. If you have any questions about your experience with low back pain, don’t hesitate to get in contact at firstname.lastname@example.org