Back Pain Myths
Pain is good for you. It builds strength and character.
False: In some cases, pain serves a good purpose. It warns you that something is wrong — for instance, you've burned your hand. Pain also keeps you from causing additional harm or injury — by causing you to quickly take your hand off the stove. However, persistent pain ceases to provide a useful warning. It can keep you from your daily activities and exercise, leading to health problems and depression. So "toughing it out" can actually build serious problems, rather than strength and character.
In addition, "no pain, no gain" may not be the best mantra for your exercise routine. This phrase usually refers to the normal aches that occur after muscles are stimulated to grow, so, in some cases, soreness might be a reasonable indicator of effective exercise. But pain during exercise is a sign of possible injury. If you experience pain during exercise, check your form, reduce your exertion level and rest.
Pain doesn't necessarily mean that some part of your body is physically damaged.
True: Not all pain is associated with a detectable injury or disease. Many people are quick to assume that if they have a pain, some specific abnormality must be causing it. And they're almost equally quick to assume that if an abnormality is present, it can be cured with an easy intervention. But this isn't always the case.
This is particularly true of chronic pain. There may be no evidence of disease or damage to body tissues that doctors can directly link to the pain.
Infants can feel pain.
True: The part of the brain and nervous system that allows you to feel pain is fully developed at birth, although it may not be fully functional in premature infants. That doesn't mean that every crying baby is in pain, though.
Babies fuss and wail for all kinds of reasons, and their tears are often more painful for their parents. However, if you suspect that your baby is hurting, see your doctor right away. And be sure to request appropriate pain relief for infants undergoing painful procedures, such as a circumcision.
Pain is an inevitable part of aging and serious illness, such as cancer.
False: Pain is more common as you age. And pain is common in some illnesses. But pain isn't inevitable. If you have cancer pain or pains associated with aging, ask your doctor about treatment options.
Increasing pain is a sign that your illness is getting worse.
False: Pain can wax or wane for many reasons, so it's not a reliable indicator of failing health or advancing disease. On the other hand, it's important to seek medical attention for any new or worsening pain.
If your pain goes away when you take an over-the-counter medication, the pain isn't related to a serious condition.
False: Over-the-counter pain medications can be quite effective, so they may provide relief from all kinds of conditions. If you're taking over-the-counter pain pills on a regular basis, you may be ignoring symptoms of a serious ailment.
You may also be contributing to your pain. Taking pain medications every day can lead to rebound headaches. These headaches are actually a symptom of medication withdrawal, caused by taking pain relievers too often.
Besides, if you're popping pills every day — often more than the number recommended on the product label — you may be at risk of serious complications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve) can cause stomach bleeding and kidney or liver problems. When taken long-term at high doses, acetaminophen (Tylenol) also can cause liver damage.
Addiction to opioid medications — such as oxycodone or morphine — is very common.
False: When used correctly, opioid medications — also known as narcotics — can be very effective. And most people who use them never become addicted. Over time, people who take opioids can develop tolerance and even physical dependence. However, this isn't the same as addiction.
In most cases, your risk of becoming addicted to opioids is small, especially if you're being carefully monitored by your doctor. Some people, including those who have a history of drug abuse, may have a greater risk of addiction.
If you start taking pain medications, you'll continually have to take higher and higher doses.
False: It's common to develop a tolerance to pain medication, which means you'll need higher doses to achieve the same level of pain relief. In some cases, tolerance proves to be helpful, as many of a drug's side effects may disappear once your body becomes more used to the medicine.
Still, most people eventually find the "right" dose and don't need to continually take more. In fact, once pain is under control, doses can sometimes be gradually lowered. With the help of your doctor, it's possible to taper off opioid medications without withdrawal.
Morphine is only given to people who are about to die.
False: Many people mistakenly associate morphine with a terminal condition. This is partly because of the widely believed — but incorrect — idea that a "lethal dose" of morphine is the only way to stop serious pain just before death.
Morphine can be helpful for people in hospice care at the end of life, but it's also effective for painful conditions that aren't life-threatening. For example, morphine is commonly used to control pain after surgery.
Doctors can't treat disease and pain at the same time. If pain control is an important part of your treatment, your doctor has given up on curing or controlling your disease.
False: If this were true, it would be an awful dilemma for doctors. Luckily, this notion is nonsense. Doctors aren't forced to choose between treating disease and controlling pain. In fact, in some cases, treating pain actually leads to better, faster healing.