You’ve gotten a lot of back advice. Not all of it’s sound. Here are three of the worst misconceptions surrounding back pain you should ignore at all costs.
“Life with your legs.”
People hear this and think that bending their knees and incorporating their legs will save them from straining their lumbar spine when they’re picking up, say, a 50-pound bag of dog food. But that’s not the right way to think about lifting safely and efficiently, says Stuart M. McGill, author of Back Mechanic. Here’s the true back-saving cue: Lift with your core. Brace your torso during the entire lift, and particularly when you set down the load.
“Stay stiff, sip a little bit of air, move your hips back, and lower the weight with the same tautness and preparation you used to lift it, then stand again,” McGill says.
“Hanging inversions relieve back pain.”
The idea is that hanging upside down from a bar from cuffs attached to your ankles—so-called gravity boots—or on an inversion table that tilts you back relieves nerve pressure in the spine by creating more space between the vertebrae.
“Any relief from traction on its own is hardly ever permanent,” McGill says.
In a study he conducted, laying on an inversion table for 15 minutes helped the spine decompress and expand between one and five centimeters. However, the effects were short-lived. The spine returned to its preinversion length after 20 minutes of walking. Worse, if you have an injury, it may cause more pain by making the spine unstable or making a herniated disk worse. However, if you don’t have back issues and like the head rush, it probably won’t hurt if you do it a few minutes at a time.
“Go see a chiropractor”
Chiropractors are trained at manipulating joints, and they understand the foundations of body movement, says Rami Said, D.P.T., of the Columbia University Department of Neurological Surgery. Most people are looking for a spinal readjustment, which helps with vertebrae alignment and joint movements. The neck and spine cracking can also offer relief from aches and pains. Unfortunately the improvement tends to be temporary, so you’ll need to go back on the regular. In addition, you may consider visiting a physical therapist, who can give you at-home exercises.