Myths about Back and Neck Pain

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about neck pain and back pain. Seeking credible information is essential to having the best chances for recovery.

In that spirit, we at wish to clarify a few of the common myths about neck and back pain.

The spine is an anatomical marvel, and it is stronger than you may think.
Spine Anatomy Interactive Video

Myth: Rest is the best way to help my pain.

Reality: A short period of bed rest may help reduce acute pain of the neck or back, but doctors generally advise against more than 1 or 2 days of bed rest. In fact, resting and general inactivity can actually cause more pain.

Inactivity leads to muscle wasting and other harmful effects, which in turn can create more back pain or neck pain and lead to an unhealthy cycle of pain/inactivity/more pain/more inactivity. For most conditions, physicians will recommend a long-term rehabilitation program of active physical therapy and exercise.

Myth: The spine is fragile and easily injured.

Reality: The spine is a well-designed anatomical structure. The surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments provide a great deal of strength, flexibility, and support for the spine. While there are some exceptions (such as an unstable spinal fracture), in general, keeping your spine healthy requires proper conditioning, including stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercise. Activities that can harm the spine include poor posture and body mechanics (e.g. improper lifting technique), and other generally unhealthy factors, such as smoking, lack of nutrition, or lack of or disordered sleep.

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Myth: The doctor didn't find anything wrong, so the pain must be all in my head.

Reality: Pain is always real. The physician may not be able to find the anatomical cause of the pain, but the pain still exists. And for chronic pain (e.g. pain that lasts more than 2 or 3 months), it's important to proactively treat the pain. While psychological factors (such as depression and sleeplessness) will often need to be included as part of a comprehensive treatment program, it is also important to search out nonsurgical care treatment options that can help alleviate the pain.

Myth: My pain is so bad, there must be ongoing spine damage.

Reality: With chronic pain, the level and extent of pain is not related to the level and extent of damage or injury in your neck or back. For example, severely degenerated discs may not produce much pain at all, and discs with little degeneration can produce severe pain.

Unlike chronic (long-term) pain, acute (short-lived) pain does correlate to the level of the injury. For example, a deep cut in your skin is more painful and more damaging than a bruise, and the pain will subside as it heals. In this manner, acute pain provides us with a protective reflex so that we avoid things that cause tissue damage (e.g. we remove our hand from a hot burner). However, with chronic pain, the pain does not have the same meaning. It is not protective and does not mean there is any ongoing tissue damage or injury.

Dealing with ongoing back pain or neck pain is a long-term a vocation. The last thing you need is incorrect or misleading information to confuse the situation. At, we strive to provide you with reliable, in-depth information to help you better understand, prevent and seek appropriate treatment for your pain.

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