If you have Back Pain, A Bulging Disc sounds Scary

But guess what! A LOT of us have them!

Low back pain affects two thirds of adults and lifetime prevalence of low back pain is between 70-85%  (1).  It is a common complaint I see in my physiotherapy clinic and in the gym. It’s a big reason why people are either afraid to start lifting weights or stop exercising.  If anyone has hurt their back before and been unable to put on their socks, you understand how debilitating back pain can be.

When you go to your doctor with back pain, he or she will usually send you for X rays or an MRI if the pain has been persisting for awhile. Things that can show up are bulging discs, arthritis known as “degenerative disc disease” and other complications. But while a lot of those things can scare us, what we are starting to see is that these things don’t necessarily explain our pain!

What we know about X-Rays and MRIs of the low back

Imaging studies have been done with people with and without back pain and their MRI and X ray reports have been compared. With X Rays, abnormal findings are just as common in people WITHOUT back pain as with back pain (2)! The same is true for MRIs.

52% of people WITHOUT back pain show “disc bulges” on MRI and 27% show “disc protrusions”

What this shows us is that some of the things that come up on the images don’t necessarily explain our pain.

But I still have pain!

That is the part that matters. Studies of older adults showed that pain intensity was the biggest predictor of function above all else. The picture didn’t matter – your feelings of pain do!

Exercise helpsdeadlift, back pain

Lower body and core strengthening are great tools for managing, and eventually eliminating the pain in your back. Going to physiotherapy, or getting a qualified strength and conditioning coach can make sure that you are performing strengthening movements correctly. Improper form can make back pain worse.

Don’t let images scare you – exercise is rehab! Want to try and use deadlifts as exercise? Check out the article talking about how and why  Christina does just that in her physiotherapy practice!


1. Lateef H, Deepak P. What is the role of imagine in acute low back pain? Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2009. 2(2): 69-73.

2. Jarvik J, Deyo R. Diagnostic evaluation of low back pain with emphasis on imaging. Ann Intern Med. 2002 137: 586-95.

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Christina Prevett

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