The most common misdiagnoses haunting back pain sufferers 30



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The only thing worse than back pain is prolonging it with incorrect misdiagnosis, yet this is a common reason why regular back pain progresses to Chronic Back Pain.

Too many people self-diagnose their pain or, even worse, make an internet diagnosis – they then become attached to the diagnosis.

They often fail to get a second opinion when treatment isn’t helping, and become resigned to their fate.

But it all starts with misdiagnosis, and the ‘big three’ misdiagnoses which mislead back pain sufferers are:


Believing it’s a disc problem

Around seven out of 10 people, if put under an MRI, would show some kind of disc issue. Our bodies aren’t perfect. For example disc bulges are incredibly common yet don’t necessarily cause pain or discomfort.

Debilitating disc problems are less common than people think. People are too quick to believe it’s a disc. With proper analysis they often find it’s something completely different, such as gluteal tightness, nerve spasm, lower spine joint tightness or even stress.



People often assume a shooting ‘nerve-like’ pain emanating from the back is sciatica – it’s a favourite of the ‘self-diagnosed’ – but nine times out of 10 sciatica is not the issue.

Problems which can masquerade as sciatica include lower back biomechanical issues, hip pain and even knee issues. None will improve while you wrongly mistake these complications for sciatica.


Stress fractures

Stress fractures can be debilitating and commonly impact sportspeople and those performing physical manual labour. But a funny thing happens to people who suffer from stress fractures – they then fall into the easy routine of blaming any other body issues on the stress fractures, even after it has healed. Meanwhile, they are missing other issues such as shoulder pain, knee problems or neck pain.

Believing that a healed injury is still troubling you is a common trap. It’s almost always something else, even if it appears to be mimicking that old familiar pain of a previous injury.


Do you see a specialist for any of the above issues? What treatments have you tried? Tell us below.

Kusal Goonewardena

Kusal is a physiotherapist with over 15 years’ experience at treating seniors, families and elite sportspeople. His clinical research has involved finding preventative cures for low back pain. Kusal has authored books including: Low Back Pain – 30 Days to Pain Free; 3 Minute Workouts; and co-authored Natural Healing: Quiet and Calm, all currently available via Wilkinson Publishing. Kusal holds a Masters in Sports Physiotherapy from Latrobe University and a Bachelor in Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne. Aside from his consulting with the general public via his clinic, Elite Akademy, Kusal works closely with Melbourne University’s Sports Medicine team and works with elite athletes including several Olympians. When not consulting, Kusal is a lecturer, author, consultant and mentor to thousands of physiotherapy students around the world.

  1. my back pain was misdiagnosed by GP for 3months, took myself off to a specialist who found I had Osteomyelitis, no wonder I had agonizing pain, treated with intravenous antibiotics then oral for almost 12 months and analgesics. I was so lucky someone listened and investigated it, wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

  2. Three doctors my back pain and increasing weakness in my legs was caused by my weight. I actually had a tumor in my spinal cord and it had flattened my spinal cord causing some degree permanent disability

    3 REPLY
    • I know this sounds weird but you are very lucky , that they found it. My next door neighbor, complained of back pain, he went to the doctor after about 3 weeks of suffering, he had a tumor on the spine..with in 3 months he was dead..I hope you live a long and healthy life

    • Im lucky my tumor was benign. But it was only my medical background and persistent demands that led to a diagnosis just before I ended up in a wheelchair for life.

    • That’s bloody disgusting I hope you’re on the mend now I’ve been to the doctor with back pain and weakness in the legs especially my thigh muscles they’ve just put it down to a disc bulging and touching nerve roots I hope they’re right because they can be bloody useless and judgemental with diagnoses!!

  3. An Osteopath fixed my sore shoulder and ache in the middle of my back in only two treatments! I’m back in the Gym and doing my Yoga pain free.:-D

  4. As a remedial massage therapist and pilates instructor I can honestly say explore the postural and soft tissue issues first before anything else. Remedial exercise to reverse years of sitting and flexion, chronic postural and muscle disfunfunction is preferable.
    You are 90% of the solution. The body can do a lot of hraling if you let it. No magic pills here. Good luck

  5. Lower back pain,huh?…I’ve got severe canal stenosis and severe facet degeneration(caused by osteoarthritis)…and also a mild scoliosis to the right in one area and to the left in another…so I can dance the twist without really trying!!!
    Have recently had an epidural injection of corticosteroid to see if that will help…but now the pain from the osteoarthritis in my left hip has kicked in with a vengeance I will have to wait until I have my hip replacement February to see if I am salvageable!!!…ha,ha!!
    Life goes on….

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