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Low back pain myths – Part Seven: spasm, sitting, hands-on treatment

This video and blog is a description of the next three myths: why spasm doesn’t equal the amount of tissue damage, why sitting in itself isn’t public enemy number one for your back, and why having hands-on treatment isn’t the answer for persistent ongoing back pain.

If you missed the start of this series with clips of the talk up to this point, click here to go back to the start and see the first one.

If you have any thoughts or comments about this series, feel free to post a comment on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/AdelaideWestPhysio

[If you would like to cut to the chase and get the top 10 myths in a free printable guide, just click here]


Myth #16 – Your back is in spasm because there is so much damage

Fact: In the same way that pain doesn’t equal damage, spasm isn’t only based on the amount of tissue damage.

Spasm is one of the results of what your brain and the rest of your central nervous system ‘decides’ is the best way to look after you – it doesn’t just rely on the information from the tissues.

Just like pain, spasm happens as a result of your CNS (central nervous system) whizzing through lots of incoming information plus past experience, thoughts, beliefs, memories and more.

The ‘danger’ message produced by damaged tissue is just one of those bits of incoming information.

Remember – there are a lot of occasions all throughout the day when you have ‘danger’ messages ascending to your brain that don’t result in pain – it all depends on the importance that is placed on it.

As you are sitting reading this, imagine that you are sitting on a bit of a hard chair for a while.  There might be some danger messages that your brain receives that might make you wriggle a bit, without actually giving you a pain experience. But the result is that you wriggle and ease the pressure on you posterior.

In a different person, in a different situation, with a different CNS ‘setting’, that might actually be painful.

Danger messages can, but don’t have to, result in pain – it’s your brain that decides.

Spasm is the same. Your brain decides.

Myth #17 – Sitting is bad for your back

Fact: Sitting is a fact of life, but we need to move more.

Sitting is not so bad. We all have to do it. You can’t drive a car without sitting. You can’t complete your daily ablutions without it.

The recent interest in sitting has portrayed it as really really bad news, and sit-stand desks are sweeping the nation like cane toads. Our lifestyles are more sedentary than ever, and this is bad news for many aspects of our health. For a nice summary, see here from the SBS website (which has got some good stuff on it, I must say!)

In terms of low back pain, it’s not that sitting is bad – it is the lack of variety if you sit for prolonged periods.

Your spine craves and appreciates variety and movement. If you have a back problem, even more so. Move. Regularly.

So when is posture important for low back pain?

The research has given equivocal results as far as posture correction and prevention of back pain.

However, if you do have back pain and your pain in your back is less when sitting corrected (which is often the case) or you are sitting and your leg pain reduces when sitting corrected, then that is a clear sign that the corrected position is beneficial at that point in time to help your recovery.

By corrected, I mean with a little extra support to help keep the curve in the low part of your back when you are in a seat.  That might be from a lumbar roll, or another kind of support like a good chair or a rolled up towel. Or just sitting up on your sitting bones.

If you find that when you get up from sitting that you struggle to straighten up for a bit, it is certainly worth trying to sit with improved spinal curves, with some good lumbar support, and then see if it is any better when you stand. If so, you would benefit from extra lumbar support.

Variety is the key. Move. Regularly.

If you are worried about losing your train of throught, even just stand and sit down and reset your position when you sit. Set a reminder to do it every 30 minutes – it is too easy to get absorbed in what you are doing at work!


If you are in the market for a new office chair and you don’t know where to start, check out this blog.

The good news is that you don’t need to spend lots of money to get something that will do a great job, but you do need to know the ‘must have’ features.

This article should make the process much easier!


Myth #18 – Passive therapies are the answer for persistent low back pain.

Fact: Passive therapies are not the answer for persistent low back pain. The answer is multi-faceted and usually requires learning, pacing, strengthening and moving.

What do I mean by passive therapies? All the hands-on or hands-off treatment that are done to you.

It includes physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopath, massage therapy, mobilisation, manipulation, adjustment, electrotherapy, Reiki, fish-slapping, whatever.

These passive therapies can be helpful to get you over an acute situation, or to get you through a bad patch.

However, if you have persistent back pain, you need to look beyond passive therapy because they are not the long term solution.

If you have persistent pain, you need to work towards not being therapy-dependent. Or therapist-dependent.

The answer is closer to home. You need to take back control, and (dare I say it) own it.

But it isn’t as simple as saying ‘get on with life, get over it’, and that is where a physio with a skill set in working with persistent pain is going to be very helpful.

They can teach you the skills and the knowledge that you need, and create a plan.

It’s all about having a good plan!


If you would like to speak directly with a physio to discuss your problem, simply book online for a free 15 minute pre-assessment consultation, or you can call us on 8356 1000 to organise your free pre-assessment consultation.

This session can be in-person in the clinic, which is recommended as you will get more useful information. It can also be a phone call consultation for your convenience.

YouTube video

If you missed the start of this series with clips of the talk up to this point, click here to go back to the start and see the first one.

If you have any thoughts or comments about this series, feel free to post a comment on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/AdelaideWestPhysio

[If you would like to cut to the chase and get the top 10 myths in a free printable guide, just click here]

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About the author

Russell Mackenzie
Russell Mackenzie
Russell is a physiotherapist and clinic owner in Adelaide, South Australia. He received his physiotherapy degree from UniSA in 1994, and has since also become a Credentialed McKenzie Therapist. Russell is the co-owner of Adelaide West Physio + Pilates and more recently, Adelaide West Headache Clinic, which was formed after becoming a Watson Headache Certified Practitioner to show his dedication and passion for headache and migraine treatment. Russell also aims to spread the word about the role of physiotherapy and non-surgical methods of helping persistent pain, low back pain and other conditions. Learn more about Russell on our About Us page.
Russell Mackenzie

Russell Mackenzie

Russell is a physiotherapist and clinic owner in Adelaide, South Australia. He received his physiotherapy degree from UniSA in 1994, and has since also become a Credentialed McKenzie Therapist. Russell is the co-owner of Adelaide West Physio + Pilates and more recently, Adelaide West Headache Clinic, which was formed after becoming a Watson Headache Certified Practitioner to show his dedication and passion for headache and migraine treatment. Russell also aims to spread the word about the role of physiotherapy and non-surgical methods of helping persistent pain, low back pain and other conditions. Learn more about Russell on our About Us page.
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