Why Back Pain is Like the Common Cold

If you think about it, you probably know at least one person in your life who has suffered from low back pain. In fact, most of us have even dealt with it ourselves! Did you know that research has found that next to the common cold, low back pain is the most common reason that people visit a physician’s office?

Do you think that this would be the case if you knew that back pain was a normal part of life, and that it does not mean that you damaged or injured anything? It’s true!

Occasional back pain, not prolonged or sustained back pain, is normal.

There are some times that a visit to your primary care physician is needed, which is when you should talk to or get screened by a physical therapist who will know when to refer you in that direction.

If low back pain is the common cold of the spine, then people should treat it like a common cold. Would you want to get a MRI or x-ray when experiencing a cold? What if you were told that your cold was due to a bulging booger (aka a “slipped disk”… ps: disks do not slip), that needed to be removed? It sounds crazy, but we hear stories like this from patients all of the time. Many patients will tell us that they went to urgent care or their primary care physician for their back pain, who then sent them off for imaging, which then lead to hearing that their spine was “the worst we have seen”, or to never lift more than 10 pounds, which then lead to an injection or a surgery. These patients listened to the advice or underwent treatment, and still had pain afterwards, which is why they came to us. We took a look at them and would discover that it wasn’t all the scary diagnoses on their imaging that was causing the pain, it was a muscular problem, a stress problem, or a movement problem. This is why the injection or surgery did not work, it did not treat the root cause of the pain.

Pain is like the check engine light in your car.

It does not mean that anything is broken beyond repair. Most times, it is your body’s way of telling you that you may be under more stress than normal, might need more rest, aren’t recovering from your workouts, or that you might need to move a little differently, or make a change.

Most people will not need to go see their primary care physician and will find that treating low back pain is like treating the common cold. If you think about it, when you have a cold your nose runs and becomes sensitive, you cough, and you may have trouble sleeping. As we all know, a cold can’t be treated with a silver bullet medication–we have to manage the symptoms the best we can. This is similar to what people with low back pain experience.

There is no silver magic bullet for low back pain. No one magic pill, medication, stretch, yoga routine, or exercise. This is because you are unique, and the cause of your back pain is unique to you! There are so many different things that can be causing your pain, and it is important to find a practitioner that can help you get to the root cause of your pain to get you back on track as quickly as possible.

This is why many people do not find relief for their pain when they search on YouTube or Google for solutions to their pain. The advice you find might not be for someone with your problem, you might not be doing the exercise correctly, or you might be doing too much or not enough.

We find that with many of our patients, where they hurt is not where the problem is!

Many of them had searched online for solutions and would try traction, core strengthening drills, or belts to help take away their pain, but nothing worked. For some of them, the problem was that their hips did not move well, so their low back was trying to compensate for the lack of mobility.

This week, we had a competitive horseback rider come in who had had surgery on her back, but was still stiff, in pain, and not able to lift the weights that she wanted, sit at work, or have proper form while riding her horse. We found that her hips were stiff, and her ankles did not move well, which was causing pain with squatting in the gym. We worked on her ankle and hip mobility, and she is back to doing cardio, lifting weights, and just competed at a horse show recently, and moved up a level!

We have also seen plenty of yogi’s who have plenty of mobility, but are not able to control their mobility. Their body doesn’t feel safe in the uncontrolled range of motion, and sends them a pain signal in attempts to get them to stop moving through the range of motion. This is the opposite of what you should be doing if you have low back pain.

Movement is medicine. Just keep moving! It’s our motto.

Even if it is gentle walking, movement and getting your heart rate up releases endorphins, which can help reduce your pain and speed up your recovery.

What else can you do besides walking to help fix your back pain and get to the root cause of the issue? Click here to download our free back pain ebook to learn more about how you can help relieve your back pain and how to treat the root cause of your issue, that way you can stop wasting your time on exercises that don’t work, money on medications and procedures that aren’t working for you, and get back to the activities that you love, like: your fulfilling career, being an active mom, playing with your grandkids, working out with friends, or setting personal records.


About The Author

Dr. Kaitlin Herzog

Dr. Herzog attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. She went on to earn her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Wheeling Jesuit University. Kaitlin has been an athlete for most of her life and was introduced to physical therapy when she had several sports-related injuries. She decided to become a physical therapist to help others maintain an active lifestyle while staying pain free. Kaitlin uses a hands-on approach to help people of all backgrounds optimize their movement and performance. Dr. Herzog is a record-holding competitive powerlifter, and you can find her training or competing in her spare time. She also enjoys Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, sports, hiking, baking, crafts, traveling, and exploring Greensboro with friends.​

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