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Should we be reading all about it? The back pain fake news pandemic.

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

I explore how to avoid health misinformation on the internet...

These days, the first thing that we do when we experience almost anything is google it. With an increase in online information and digital services such as 111 it would be easy to assume that internet answers should be, well, the answer.

A quick online search for back pain will give you a whopping 1.7 billion hits. Advice spans from laying on a spikey mat to cracking joints to getting on a plane and leaving your old life behind. During an agonising back spasm episode our vulnerable brains can easily drop ninety quid on a fancy sounding brace that will ‘rid you of back pain for life’. But is that really the thing to do? And if it is, why is backache so rife? So many questions.

In the time of YouTube showing us how to make our own pappardelle it would be easy to fall into the trap of trusting a site that offers the single exercise that will ease all pain. We can fix anything from our lounges. I asked Caroline a Senior Physiotherapist her thoughts and she shared that; “This is a concerning time for healthcare professionals who are keen for readers to find safe and accurate advice’. In terms of results Caroline adds “often, these online healthcare wannabes are not qualified and making things worse”.

Trust me I’m a…

The beauty and the beast of the internet is that anyone can post whatever they like and call it ‘advice’. (Including this blog - feel free to check out my credentials too). Without medical training, how are we to know the difference between a physiotherapist, osteopath, chiropractor, exercise rehab instructor, or Raki master?

Check registration

A useful measure would be to check something called the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This a list of registered clinicians so is an easy way to tell if the source is legitimate. Similarly, checking the NHS website so that you understand the profession’s skill set is quick and informative.

Check credentials and contact for more information

Out there in the digital world are literally thousands of great clinicians, blogging, podcasting and writing. They deserve to be heard and could be just what we need. The real healthcare providers will most likely have their qualifications and registration on the ‘about’ page. They will never shy away from a credentials conversation too. Any so-called health expert that refuses to talk about their education is likely a duff. Hannah is Advanced Level Physiotherapist and tells me that ‘I spend a lot of time undoing the damage that bad information has caused, either from the internet or from non-clinicians that have been selling the patient something”. Read: check the credentials of that trainer/massage therapist/blog.

Red flags

Watch out for any extremes of opinion or absolutes. Mark is a Sports and Exercise Medicine Consultant, he says: “It’s very difficult to predict when someone will get better from anything, ongoing assessment is key, recovery times vary”. It seems that being able to make an all too confident diagnosis instantly + predict the solution down to the minute is either incredibly lucky or inaccurate.

Search around

Be your own journalist and compare notes. Check out other blogs, other reliable websites, and question what you read. Being informed is a good thing. Knowledge - as they say - is power. The more education we have about our health and wellbeing the more we are empowered to take better care of ourselves. Varying your sources means more balanced information and is likely to show up any strange/useless treatment ideas.

The message

  1. It is important to remember that when searching anything online some information might be unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.

  2. Check your sources and don’t be afraid to question anything that doesn’t seem right.

  3. Don’t hesitate to see a GP or Physiotherapist with any concerns.

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