We believe that many words used to describe back pain are actually slowing down recovery! With back pain affecting over 80% of the New Zealand population and being one of the main complaints we see every day in the physiotherapy clinic we hear an array of terminology when describing the problem. Quite often, this will include things like ‘my back is out’ and my ‘pelvis is out of alignment’.
Backs and pelvises do not go out of out of place and discs cannot slip anywhere!! The spine is made up of 33 vertebra which is encased in many small ligaments and muscles. It is a very strong and mobile structure and is designed to support our movement on a daily basis.
There are many reasons you may experience an episode of back pain but it is not due to anything being ‘out of place’! Sometimes you can strain some of the muscles or ligaments that surround the spine or quite often it can be due to postural or muscle imbalances. Sometimes the little joints in the spine can become stiff and not move as well as they should. Most cases resolve quickly with the advice from physiotherapy, exercise and keeping active.
Using phrases such as ‘my back is out’ or “I’ve slipped a disc” creates negative connotations towards back pain, making the spine sound unstable or fragile and often results in a fear of moving. Research has shown that using negative language to describe back pain can impair recovery therefore should be avoided. Also – a lot of this language is just not accurate!
Hands on techniques called mobilisations and manipulations can be helpful in aiding the recovery and mobility of the spine but they are not used with the thought of putting the spine ‘back in place’. Rather, they are used to aid mobility of the joint segments and release tight structures surrounding the spine and this will often give pain relief as well as improving movement. You may hear your joints crack and pop at times during treatment, this is what we call a cavitation and is harmless. It is the result of small gas bubbles moving in the joint space due to a pressure change, it does not mean that something has “moved back into place”……because it was never out of place (remember!)
The most important thing you can do when you have back pain is to STAY ACTIVE and not to be fearful of movement. We know that our patients are perfectly capable of understanding the truth of what is happening to their back so we will not “dumb down” our explanation to you with hurtful words!