A new approach to understanding back pain

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting almost 80 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. Neurosurgeon Dr. Patrick Roth believes many people are taking the wrong approach to back pain. Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor of FoxNews.com recently sat down with Roth, author of “The End of Back Pain.”

According to Roth, sometimes back pain actually has very little to do with the back.

“If you were to do an MRI on people with back pain, you would find lots of abnormalities. None of them would definitively explain the pain,” he said. “Some of them could be the cause of the pain, but everyone has abnormalities in MRIs so the reality is, if you have back pain and it is carefully investigated, the majority of the time you don’t know what it is coming from.”

When it comes to back pain myths, Roth said one of the biggest misconceptions is thinking the cause of back pain is a weak abdomen.

“People look in the mirror and they define their exercise program by what they see,” he said. “Everyone has this idea that they should strengthen their abdomen to make their back better. But one of the things is you will get more mileage with strengthening the muscles that are behind you that you can’t see.”

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Many Americans try to alleviate back pain with prescription pain medications, which can lead to dependence and other health problems. Roth believes taking pain medication may cause more harm than good.

“You have pain medication that is made by your body, it circulates, and you are in homeostatic condition most of the time,” he said. “If you take pain medication from the outside and you add it, the body thinks there is too much of its own medication and the receptors go down. So what happens is when that pain medication wears off, you’re actually more susceptible to pain.”

Roth said the majority of back pain goes away, and is a part of life that can be hard to avoid.

“One of the things people do wrong is they assume something is broken that needs to be fixed. And that mindset makes back pain persist,” he said.

When back pain strikes, Roth said the best thing you can do is get moving and don’t be afraid to exercise.

“Get back to activities and daily living,” he said. “You can begin to exercise even when in pain. A lot of people think the pain has got to be done before I start my exercises. They actually work well while you’re in pain.”

For more information, visit PatrickRothMD.com