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Reviewed 3/29/2023

Back pain: Myth or fact?

Back pain isn't just something that happens as you get older. There's usually a cause—and ways to prevent (or treat) it. Test your back IQ with this quiz.

Myth or fact: Bed rest is the best cure for back pain.

Myth. Bed rest can actually make a sore back worse if you linger too long. Too much inactivity can make you stiff and weak—and more uncomfortable. That's why doctors generally advise against bed rest for more than 48 hours.

Myth or fact: Exercise can't help prevent back pain.

Myth. Getting moderate exercise every day strengthens your muscles and is one of the best things you can do to prevent a sore back. Ask your doctor which exercises are the best match for your back. Some back-friendly exercises include walking, swimming and lifting light weights.

Myth or fact: Quitting smoking can be good for back pain.

Fact. People who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk of back pain, possibly because smoking may keep disks in the spine from getting enough nutrients. A smoker's cough can also trigger back pain. And smoking can slow healing, so back pain may last longer.

Myth or fact: If I have back pain, chances are I'll need surgery.

Myth. Not at all. Most people with back pain get better either without treatment or with conservative treatments—such as pain medicine and physical therapy. Surgery should only be considered when other treatments don't help.

Myth or fact: Some back pain needs immediate attention.

Fact. While back pain often goes away on its own, see your doctor right away if you also have trouble urinating; a fever; unintentional weight loss; or numbness, pain or weakness in your legs.

Back pain is a symptom of many different things. It's important to consult your doctor, who can diagnose you—and suggest treatment options.

What brings on back pain?

Sources: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; North American Spine Society

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