Myths About Pain

The way you think about your pain plays a role in how it feels. This is not to say that it’s “all in your head”, but that pain is contextual. In the same way that a papercut doesn’t always hurt until you see it, other pain can be worse when the perceived cause is something more worrying. Myths about pain can also affect the way you treat (or don’t treat) the problem. Ideas that some things are untreatable don’t help the patient, especially when there are things they could be doing to help themselves.

Unfortunately, some of these myths come from other professionals. If you have a scan of your neck and the doctor tells you your bones are “crumbling”, it’s hard not to take that on board. Comments like this might be an attempt to explain something like osteoporosis in the simplest terms. Often they don’t land that way, and the patient leaves feeling vulnerable and fragile. It’s even worse if there was no following discussion about how it would be managed. When we feel this way, we might inadvertently do more harm by trying to protect it. Many musculoskeletal problems benefit from activity and exercise, but you might feel like the “weak” area just needs wrapping in cotton wool. Shielding a joint or even adopting the use of a brace or sling can actually make things worse. Frozen shoulder is more likely to develop when the shoulder has been immobilised, for example.

Myths can be detrimental

“There’s nothing that can be done about arthritis unless you can have a joint replacement”

Patients might mention their arthritis as an aside, or book in with it as a last resort. Research actually shows that osteopathy can help to slow the progression of osteoarthritis. Movement and exercise are key in managing the condition, although other myths will tell you that you need to rest and “save” the joint. Only the late stages of arthritis will be aggravated by movement, at which point surgery may be your best bet. Your osteopath can support you in the meantime.

“Back pain in pregnancy is unavoidable, so you just have to put up with it”

Realistically, this one is true to an extent. We expect some discomfort during pregnancy in response to mechanical and hormonal changes. However, your osteopath can help manage your symptoms. This can be more beneficial than just symptomatic relief. If the pelvic joints become irritated, you can develop SPD. This label is a sliding scale, with more severe cases having a significant effect on labour

“If you have back pain, you should have a few days of bed rest”

There are very few things the musculoskeletal system wants bed rest for. Movement is good for pain management, but also healing in most cases. Soft tissues heal better with appropriate loading. Bones heal stronger when weight bearing encourages the development of the correct structure. Of course, in the early stages, some injuries do need rest. But this is not total rest, and it is not for long. If you see your osteopath for an injury, you can expect them to help you recover between sessions too. That includes an exercise plan that aligns with the stage of recovery you are in.

“Your back is out of alignment and needs clicking back into place”

It might sound pedantic, but vertebrae don’t just come out of place (nor do discs “slip”). The spinal column is very strong and stable as it needs to bear the weight of the whole body. Due to trauma or anatomical anomaly, some people do suffer from a spinal bone coming out of place, but this is not something that needs “clicking back in”.

Myths that suggest your back is fragile enough for bones to slip out of place are not helpful, or true. Spines are inherently very stable. When we click a joint, the movement is very small. It’s comparable to clicking your knuckles: you might feel a shift when it clicks, but you wouldn’t say that anything was out of place before or after. Simply that the joint was a bit stiff and now it moves more.

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