Hand massaging back
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The Truth About Back Pain

It might be a sharp stab. It might be a dull ache. Sooner or later, 8 out of 10 of us will have back pain. And back pain myths are almost as common. Let's set the record straight about what you may have heard.

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Elderly Man Sitting
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Myth: Always Sit Up Straight

Slouching is bad. But sitting up too straight and still for long periods can also be a strain on your back. Take breaks a few times a day: Lean back in your chair with your feet on the floor and let your back curve slightly. Even better: Try standing for part of the day, perhaps while you're on the phone or reading.

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Weightlifter and Heavy Barbell
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Myth: Don't Lift Heavy Things

It's not necessarily how much you lift, it's how you do it. Get directly in front of the object. Squat close to it, with your back straight and head up. Stand, using your legs to push up the load and your arms to hold it close to your middle. Don't twist or bend your body, or you may hurt your back. (Of course you shouldn't pick up anything that might be too heavy for you.)

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Bare Feet in Bed
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Myth: Bed Rest Is the Best Cure

Yes, resting can help a recent injury or strain that causes back pain. But a day or two in bed can actually make it worse.

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Woman Falling off of a Ladder
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Myth: Pain Is Caused by Injury

Disc degeneration, diseases, infections, and even inherited conditions can make your back hurt, too.

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Man Riding Bike on Beach
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Fact: More Pounds, More Pain

Staying fit helps prevent back pain. As you might guess, extra pounds will put stress on your back. Back pain is most common among people who are out of shape, especially weekend warriors who push themselves hard after sitting around all week. 

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Fashion Models on Catwalk
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Myth: Skinny Means Pain-Free

Anyone can get back pain. People who are too thin, such as those with an eating disorder like anorexia, may have bone loss. They're more likely to get broken bones and crushed vertebrae.

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Male Swimmer Stretching
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Myth: Exercise Is Bad for Back Pain

This is a big one. Regular exercise prevents back pain. And doctors may recommend exercise for people who have recently hurt their lower back. They'll usually start with gentle movements and gradually build up the intensity. Once the immediate pain goes away, an exercise plan can help keep it from coming back.

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Chiropractor adjusting woman's back
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Fact: Chiropractic Care Can Help

Treatment guidelines from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society recommend that patients and doctors consider other options with proven benefits for low back pain. These include spinal manipulation and massage therapy.

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Woman With Acupuncture Needles
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Fact: Acupuncture May Ease Pain

The same organizations say acupuncture, yoga, progressive relaxation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy may help when you don't get relief from standard self-care.

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Young Woman Lying on Back Holding Hands
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Myth: Firmer Mattresses Are Better

In a Spanish study, people with ongoing general back pain who slept on a medium-firm mattress hurt less and were able to move better than those who slept on a firm mattress. But one size doesn't fit all. Choose your mattress based on your sleep habits as well as the cause of your back pain.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 07/06/2015 Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on July 06, 2015

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REFERENCES:

National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Back Pain."

Division of Occupational Health and Safety, NIH: "Ergonomics for Computer Workstations."

National Guideline Clearinghouse: "Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: A joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society," July 27, 2009.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Low Back Pain Exercise Guide."

Chou, R. Annals of Internal Medicine, October 2007.

Kovacs, F.M. Lancet, Nov. 15, 2003.

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on July 06, 2015

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.