There are tons of commonly prescribed back pain products and modalities that promise a solution to your back pain but hardly ever deliver. Just type anything back pain relief related into Google and you will get a slew of garbage advice. Considering that back pain is a $100 billion-dollar industry and still effects 80% of Americans. I can’t help but assume the majority of the stuff being sold to sufferers is garbage.
My goal for this article is to shed some light on some heavily prescribed and used back pain relief strategies that are more of a hoax than actually helping.
15 Back Pain Relief Strategies That Don’t Work
Before we dive in. If this is your first time here be sure to pick up my free video course. I show you where you need to start in order to exercise and live an active life even with a sensitive back.
(1) You Constantly Stretch for Back Pain Relief
The idea behind stretching is that it brings relief to “tight muscles”. The thought is; if muscles are tight they must be causing my back pain. Therefore, it is best to stretch these tight muscles out in order to get rid of your nagging back pain.
This is false. In my experience, stretching has done more harm and slowed my recovery (from back pain) down significantly then actually helping. I do believe there is a time and a place for light stretching and focused release in certain areas but if you are stretching for back pain relief, STOP.
In most cases, a sensitive lower back needs more STABILITY than it does MOBILITY.
(2) You train your core the wrong way.
I am a firm believer in developmental core training. I believe muscle awareness and activation drills help people understand the importance of the body as a chain. Whether it’s using the hips to drive the bar off the ground during the deadlift or taking your shoes off and doing lunges in your bare-feet. These cues serve a purpose of muscle recruitment and making the mind body connection during certain activities.
The same goes for core training. 90% of people in the gym are doing sit ups, crunches, leg raises and other pointless training exercises for their abs. STOP doing these types of ab exercises. Focus on neutral spine work and coordination with movement. Anyone can flex their stomach while on their back but when taking the hips through different ranges of motion are you able to control the stability around your spine? Most can’t.
(3) Hang upside down or hang anywhere for that matter.
That stupid Inversion Table. Listen, I believe there is value in decompressing the spine. I really do. I don’t know what the research says about it (I don’t think there is any with an inversion table) nor do I really care. I am here to tell you though that it’s junk. You’re better off selling it and using that money to buy you a little home gym setup.
I get the idea of decompressing the spine. But so many other things are happening while you’re hanging there upside down. Things that are bringing you zero benefit to your injured or sensitive back. In most cases hanging from a bar or upside down could be adding to the instability in the sensitive area. It will sometimes deliver short term relief which gets people hooked but will soon turn into a habit they feel they need to do every day. This is coming from someone who suffered with chronic back pain for over 8 years and would hang, stretch and pop my back multiple times a day. It wasn’t until I stopped that I started seeing progress with my relief.
(4) Use creams, balms and other smelly junk.
These are designed to give you the illusion of pain relief. The topical cream either heats or cools the area tricking your pain receptors into thinking the threat is no longer there and the pain is gone.
Creams do nothing but give you temporary relief. While you sit there and rub Tiger Balm on your body I’ll work on my core strength and building resilience around my spine. I have a better chance at long-term relief than any Bio-Freeze. I still don’t know how people believe that a cream will solve issues that poor habits create. Think about that. The relief is in the habit change!
I say these things from personal experience. I personally know the sensation Tiger Balm gives believe me, my body wreaked of it for over 2 years.
(5) Use Band-Aids: straps, tape and braces to “fix” your problem.
I’m sure you have seen products like this.
They claim to teach you better posture and to train the body to adapt to this new, “better posture”. There is NOTHING about these tools that work other than give you the illusion of having better posture. It’s like buying Spanx in and telling everyone who compliments you on your new slimmer look that it’s all from eating healthy and exercise.
Get-out-a-here with that.
All it does is make you look slimmer. You can’t build a long-term relief strategy based on illusions. It just won’t work.
The same thing goes for things like orthotics for flat feet or any other “foot abnormality”. It’s simply a band aid that is trying to correct an issue but when it fails it really just creates more issues somewhere else.
(6) Buying super squishy “supportive” shoes.
Brooks, Saucony, Nike the list goes on. Just about everyone has their “pillow top” style shoes for added comfort along with improved stability engineering designed for your specific foot. I actually did an article on the best shoes for back pain here.
This is garbage.
We are not designed to wear shoes. Our society and culture have created an environment where shoes are not only emphasized but expected. You can’t walk into a C-Suite business meeting in your bare-feet. They don’t care that you would rather feel more connected and in control of how your feet work. So you go out and buy these super slick leather jackets for your feet and spend the next 20-30 years wearing them to work every day.
You can look at the athletic shoe industry the same way. You have bad feet so you have to come into my store to get your feet evaluated and then purchase way over priced shoes in order for you to run safely and comfortably.
The best thing you can do for your feet is purchase shoes that support more natural foot mechanics. An athletic shoe brand such as Altra uses a zero-drop design where the heel is taken out and on the same contact field as the toes. Essentially you are walking running on a flat surface rather than a slight incline due to the heel.
You can even take your shoe game a step further and check out Vevo Barefoot shoes. They are pricy but you’re looking at a high quality, natural style shoe for most occasions. This style is close to what are known as Vibram 5 finger shoes or “Toe Shoes”. I used to love wearing these out in public years ago when they were just coming out. Best conversation starter ever!
(7) Buy pillow top mattresses.
Our bodies crave comfort. Especially if you have been dealing with chronic back pain for any amount of time. This sometimes leads us to do things that in our minds make sense but only brings short term relief. This is the case often found with mattress purchases. Personally, I find it extremely difficult to find “the best mattress” because this really depends on your body’s current state of pain. You can get completely different results with the same mattress depending on the level of “pain sensations” you’re currently dealing with.
For example. A few years ago, I put my big boy paints on and bought my first mattress for my wife and I. Before this we were using a nasty college mattresses or hand me downs from family. I went out and tested as many as I could (at the time I was dealing with some of the highest low back pain I ever dealt with) and landed on a plush top king size mattress. Long story short after about 6 months of use I started to notice the plush top getting worn out and creating this pocket where I slept (this is normal for most mattresses). This started to irritate my lower back which forced me to start looking at more “support” while I slept.
I tried all kinds of things to build up the “firmness” of the mattress from adding layers of blankets to strategically placed pillows. Nothing really worked long term. This lead me to buy a 4inch thick Tempurpedic mattress topper which worked great for another 6 months to a year but ended up doing the same thing the mattress was doing.
Nothing seemed to work and after years of fighting this mattress I learned that what my body was craving was a firm support system. I needed to find a way to add stiffness to the mattress while I worked through my sensitivity issues. Since then, I have finally found a solution to my problem. I simply cut plywood and lined the top of my box spring with the plywood before putting on my mattress. This allowed me to get away from all the junk artificial support tactics and simplify my sleeping strategy. Making this change along with the rest of my recovery strategies helped tremendously.
If you want more strategies I did a write up on sleeping and back pain here.
(8) Thinking that all exercise is good for back pain.
If you’re actively Crossfitting, HIIT’ing, or Boot Camping and your coach has NOT addressed your low back pain you need to cancel your membership and get yo-money back.
I understand why you may think these are great workouts but there will come a point in time where you will really want to get more control of your chronic underlying pain and in order for you to do that you will need to throttle back on your workout intensity. I would never suggest taking them out forever (although, I will say I am not fond of CrossFit at all so you could stop that forever and I would be okay with it ;).
There is just too much going on with these types of workouts. You are already in pain with a high level of sensitivity. You have no idea what is causing it and this type of training is NOT designed to help you navigate that while still successfully doing the workouts.
(9) Oh, that movement hurts? Just stop doing it then.
Fear avoidance is a real thing and for most pain sufferers it is one of the biggest reasons you continue on your own pain cycle month after month. This is one of the key areas we touch on a lot inside the F4BP Private Membership.
What happens with LBP people is they build this narrative in their minds based off of what their physician, PT or physiotherapist tells them. They are told sitting will kill you, that you are broken and need fixing, that your options for relief are limited to pain management or surgery. These same doctors will then suggest you be as active as possible and get on some kind of exercise routine. The problem with this is you don’t know what is good or bad for you so you just make a list of things to avoid and hope for the best. This fear-based list gets bigger and bigger as your symptoms change or get worse, eventually leading to a list that gets smaller and smaller as the years progress.
There is a time and place for taking things out of your program but it should never be forever. If you are living a life where you have created a list of things you CAN’T do. I suggest you get into a training program with a coach who can help you rethink that narrative and get you on the right track.
(10) You Believe: “You are broken and need to be fixed.”
This is piggy backing off the one above. Whether it is intentional or something that is just taught in medical school. Most physicians (not all) are feeding you information about your back pain that is doing more damage than good. Do an audit of the things you have been allowing into your mind and ears since you were “diagnosed”. What did the doctor tell you? What did your surgeon, Physical Therapist, Physiotherapist or Chiropractor tell you?
If you’re not careful you will begin to believe these negative things you’re being told. You will believe you are “at risk”, “broken”, in need of fixing or the perfect candidate for X surgery. This leads to confusion, overwhelm and reaching for relief in the wrong areas.
In this article here: I talk about what I wish the surgeon who tried telling me to get a fusion had told me this instead
If you define yourself by your MRI scan you will want to read this.
(11) Eat special foods
I know your homeopath doctor told you that Devil’s Root tea and ginger would help with your back pain but that’s very unlikely. Unless your back pain is more emotional based and somehow drinking this tea reduces that stress then your symptoms may actually reduce significantly.
For most, simply drinking more tea and eating more blueberries will not make a significant difference.
There is a time and a place for anti-inflammatory diets but I would encourage you to continue to explore more sources of relief. If it really was what your body needed you should see improvement within a month or so of eating/drinking whatever it is that you like.
(12) Go all in with Chiropractors
Trust me I have seen numerous types of Chiropractors. Regular Chiros, Chiro/Massage Therapists and even sport specific Chiros. The ones that I worked with were the biggest waste of time and money. It is rare that having your entire body adjusted and aligned is what is causing your chronic back pain. I don’t care what your situation is. Odds are they convinced you that your slight shift in your pelvis or slight leg length discrepancy is the sole reason for your pain.
I would press back on that and challenge his/her reasoning.
How do you know if you have found a good Chiro?
If you are in the Orlando area I would highly suggest reaching out to Dr. Jacob Harden (https://www.instagram.com/dr.jacob.harden/). He is the best I have seen.
If you walk into his office and all you see are rooms with beds, run.
If you walk in and see that the majority of his space is taken up with what looks like exercise equipment (as if you walked into a gym). You might have found a great source for healing!
I totally agree with one thing. Getting cracked, popped and adjusted feels GREAT! Especially if you have been having some stiffness in certain areas. But it’s like having the massage guys at the end of the marathons giving out free massages. Sure it feels great when you get your calves, quads and hams rubbed on but do you really need it to recover better?
My point is this, you need to divorce your Chiro if he has you on a regular plan with no real defined exit strategy in site. If all he is doing is adjusting you then you’re wasting your money.
Understand something about the body.
It will never be perfectly aligned. There will always be gasses between your joints that will elicit a popping sound if manipulated. That doesn’t mean you need it.
(13) Get massages on the regular (for the wrong reason).
This is similar to seeing a Chiro on the regular. When it comes to seeing a massage therapist you need to ask yourself WHY.
Am I going because it is one of the best tools I have found to reduce stress and/or clear my mind?
“I go because I have chronically tight (feeling) QL’s and I always feel better after leaving my massage therapists office”.
These are actually two alternative reasons to go to a massage therapist and one of them is the WRONG reason.
As humans we are addicted to short term relief. We want the pain and discomfort to go away now. So we will pay someone $70 to rub on our bodies for an hour to give us that sensation of relief.
It’s desperation and I totally understand. I lived with this same desperation for years.
To master the art of back pain relief you have to understand the difference between short term fixes and long-term relief. This is a topic we address heavily inside my Private Membership. To keep your mind at ease, I believe things like massages can really help. But it’s not going to be the thing that ends all your suffering.
(14) Using the “Relief by Reduction” Method
Your back pain has gotten to the point where you feel the best way to beat it is simply to stop doing the things that hurt it. This makes sense and was something I adopted years after fighting back pain without any real relief. As pain sufferers we resort to what makes the most sense.
Have you done anything like this?
-When I bend over to touch my toes it hurts, so I will just stop doing that.
-It hurts when I lift anything heavier than 20 lbs so I will just not lift anything heavier than that.
-I can’t vacuum without getting pain so I will just hire someone to vacuum for me.
I call this the Relief by Reduction Method.
Imagine this person 5 years down the road and not experiencing a bit of relief other then removing common activities from their life? Eventually they will run out of things to remove and will be left with nothing. They will have built a life around pain and the fear of movement. This is where most people are at and the only way out is to change the narrative you have on pain and what you think you can’t do.
Removing something that triggers pain or sensitivity may need to be removed or dramatically reduced but rebuilding tolerance with that movement is the key to overcoming it. You can do this in a rehab setting with a professional or in the gym by addressing specific painful exercises.
(15) Believe sitting will kill you
For the person who is dealing with sever sensitivity with sitting this is going to feel like a smack in the face. Hear me on this. I understand what you’re experiencing. That was my reality for many years commuting 45 minutes into work for 4+ years. The pain is very real and was worse when I was sitting.
Over time (with a lot of changes and habit correction) my sensitivity did reduce but it wasn’t because I was sitting less.
I’ll repeat that. My relief didn’t come because I stopped sitting so much.
As a matter of fact, the season of life I am in now has me sitting more than I ever have in my life. Despite this, I can still control my symptoms and not struggle with the chronic debilitating pain I did before.
The key is more movement variety.
Simply changing your position in your chair is a form of “movement variety”. It gives other tissues a chance to take over instead of relying on a handful of them for an entire day. Change it up. Stand some, sit some, use your trunk and sit upright but make sure you take time to sit back in your chair and utilize the backrest and arm rest.
For those who deal with severe pain when sitting. Get checked out by a pro and base the conversation on reducing flexion intolerance. Odds are your body doesn’t like being in that flexed position so it stiffens to protect the area. This creates a slew of symptoms if it goes unaddressed.
I have a feeling I’ll be adding to this list in the future but for now I think this is enough to chew on. If you have been doing any of the things above religiously and want more insight into whether or not you should stop or just make an adjustment, leave me a comment below!
If this article hurt your feelings or made you think please share it! A lot of people need to be shown the light. With the lack of information, we are getting from our medical professional, we are being fed the wrong information from people who don’t have a clue how to help someone work through back pain.
Thanks for sharing!