3 rules for avoiding back pain ‘snake oil’

Popular news media is bursting with ‘click-bait’ articles and news stories filled with sensationalist content encouraging people to try everything from strange diets to minor surgical procedures to improves their lives, reduce pain or shed a few kilos. Particularly when it comes to back pain, unscrupulous sales people are filling our attention and our shopping centres hocking what they call the latest advancements in pain relief. But time and time again studies on back pain are proving that effective pain relief is more often about getting good, science-backed advice early and avoiding the fads. So if you want to know how to avoid back-pain ‘snake oil’ try these 3 rules:

1)    If it sounds too good to be true it almost certainly is. Especially if someone is selling a device that claims to zap pain, change muscles or evoke some particularly enticing changes, there’s every chance the only change that will take place will be in your wallet. Electrotherapies like ultrasound therapy have in some instance been shown to delay recovery. Don’t put your time, money and effort into treatment that puts you at risk of being worse off.

2)    If you can’t understand it, it’s probably nonsense. Health professionals who have a modern understanding of pain should be able to communicate it to you in a way you can understand. There have even been several studies that prove understanding what’s happening when you have pain can reduce your symptoms dramatically. ‘Pseudoscience’, that is science sounding terms that are woven into complex explanations that have no founding in research, is plentiful so if you have a good relationship with a trustworthy GP ask them what they think.

3)    If someone is telling you to stop doing things that are otherwise healthy they shouldn’t be trusted. The most effective treatments by a country-mile for back pain are exercise-based and help you to understand what’s going on. If someone is telling you to stop being active, to try lengthy bed rest and is giving you advice that makes you fearful, research tells us your pain recovery will suffer. Advice like “be careful, you might end up in a wheelchair” is unfortunately all too frequently dispensed but is woefully out of line with what the best evidence for back pain suggests.

So the next time you’re on the golf course wishing you were at the 19th hole because your pain is ruining your handicap, or pushing a trolley around your local supermarket just because you need something to lean on for relief, don’t be tempted to resort to exotic, confusing offerings which promise much but deliver little. Someone like your trusted exercise physiologist and local GP have all the tools you need to help you help yourself get back to the life you deserve.