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Low Back Pain is the ‘Common Cold’ of the Spine

November 29, 2016 • Practice Leadership • Mark Shepherd


Several years ago articles on low back pain (LBP) would typically start off by stating how common LBP is in clinical practice. One of my favorite opening statements goes like this:

“Next to the common cold, low back pain is the most common reason that individuals visit a physician’s office.” (reference here, original article here)

This statement has stuck with me over the years and has helped me educate patients that LBP is common and somewhat normal to experience in their lifetime (albeit not for a sustained amount of time). The statement also expanded my thoughts on the parallels between LBP and experiencing a cold and is one that I often will relay to my patients.

If you think about it, experiencing LBP is just like experiencing a cold. When we have a cold our nose runs and becomes sensitive, we cough, our whole body might start to ache, and we have trouble sleeping. As we all know, a cold can’t be treated with a silver bullet antibiotic–we have to manage the symptoms the best we can. Isn’t this similar to what those with LBP experience as well?

If we agree that LBP is the common cold of the spine we should agree that practitioners should treat it as such. Would you want to get a MRI when experiencing a cold? How about an x-ray? What if you were told that your cold was due to a bulging booger that needed to be removed? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Well this is what is happening with modern day LBP treatment. We are trying to give silver bullet antibiotics and/or costly ineffective treatments to address the cold of the spine and it just is not working.

Physical Therapy (PT) allows the patient with LBP to work through their symptoms, much like a person with cold does.

PT is the DayQuil for the common cold of the spine.

For those that are “feeling where I am coming from,” please share to others, especially patients. It is time we start looking at LBP as the common cold of the spine and stop making it anything more than that.

Mark @ShepDPT

Photo Credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com


Mark Shepherd

Mark is a physical therapist with nine years of experience. He is dedicated to helping students become the best clinicians they can be and is a firm believer that residency and fellowship offer critical mentorship opportunities for young clinicians. Current Roles: Program Director, Fellowship in Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy, Bellin College Program Coordinator, Evidence In...

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