Your back has two main purposes: it allows you to stand, supporting your arms and legs; and it protects your spinal cord, which communicates messages between your brain and the rest of your body. The health of your spine can affect your overall well-being.

Most people experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Because it’s so common, you may have heard many theories about what causes low back pain and how to fix it. But do you have the right facts? Here’s the truth behind some common back pain myths:

1. Myth: I need an X-ray, CT or MRI to figure out why I have back pain.

Most causes of short-term (‘acute’) low back pain will not show up on an X-ray, CT or an MRI. A qualified health care professional, such as a physician or chiropractor, is trained to know when you should have diagnostic imaging done. They have a series of other tests they can do to help you get to the bottom of what is going on.

2. Myth: Bed rest is recommended for back pain.

Bed rest may worsen your back pain unless your pain is so severe that you can’t move.

3. Myth: I just need to stretch my back.

Before you stretch, it’s important to get checked out to see if stretching is the right thing to do. Depending on the reason your back is hurting, certain stretches can make things worse. For example, if you have a disc problem, then you may want to avoid stretches that flex the spine and put additional pressure on your discs. A chiropractor can help you get to the root cause and show you which exercises and stretches will help.

4. Myth: Applying heat is recommended for a sore back.

Applying heat may make the inflammation of your joint, surrounding muscles and ligaments worse. Ice is the way to go for at least the first three days of short-term (‘acute’) pain.

5. Myth: Pain is the main indication that something is wrong.

Your back may be in trouble and you may not feel it. Restricted movement or discomfort in your arms, legs and shoulders are also indications of spinal problems.

6. Myth: If I’m in a lot of pain, there must be a lot of damage.

Pain is a sensation that acts as a warning system for your brain. Many things can set that warning system off. A spine, muscle or joint expert, like a chiropractor, can help you figure out if your pain is related to these parts of your body. It’s important to remember that intense pain doesn’t necessarily mean that there is significant damage.

7. Myth: This pain is so intense, I should probably head straight to the emergency room.

Evidence shows that most low back pain cases are manageable and do not require an emergency visit. If you’re experiencing a loss of sensation in the saddle area or have lost bowel or bladder control, go to the emergency room.

Otherwise, your best first step is to find a spine, muscle and joint expert, such as a chiropractor, to diagnose and treat the cause of your low back pain. And if the cause of your pain is serious enough to warrant the emergency room, these specialists will immediately send you there.

8. Myth: Now that my back pain is gone, I can stop doing my exercises.

Once the pain stops, many people stop doing the things that helped them get rid of the pain. It’s important to make healthy back care and exercise a part of your regular routine. Otherwise, your back pain is likely to return.

If you’re experiencing back pain, consult a health care professional, such as a chiropractor, to assess your specific needs and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

To find a chiropractor near you, use the chiropractor locator on our website. In Ontario, you can visit a chiropractor without a referral from a doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care professional.