In the day and age we live in, myths, half-truths and conspiracy theories are almost impossible to avoid. From space programs to everyday healthcare, unqualified skeptics have never shied away from throwing in their two cents and making matters controversial. The prevalence of scientifically inaccurate beliefs amongst common folk is never a good sign, but it is even worse when doctors start buying in to such stories. Many of you may have heard or believed these in the past. It’s important to be aware of these false popular opinions and to be equipped with the relevant scientific facts so that these myths don’t propagate. With the noble flag of factual accuracy in our hand, let’s get started with some common misconceptions that plague the medical community.
i) Black patients have a greater tolerance for pain than patients of other ethnicities.
A 2016 research study aimed to explore the racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendation when it came to black individuals. The study concluded that more than half of medical students and medical residents had false beliefs about the physiology and anatomy of black people. About 60% of the students thought that black people had thicker skins and around 12% thought that their nerve endings had decreased sensitivity as compared to white people, giving them a greater tolerance for pain. As a consequence, non-white patients receive less pain treatment. Disturbingly, there is also disparity in treatment options for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, among many other illnesses owing to this deep-rooted racial bias. It must be explicitly known that such beliefs have no basis in scientific literature and are completely and utterly false. Acknowledging the illegitimacy of such claims is the first step towards transforming the attitude of present and future doctors towards such cases.
ii) Bed rest is the best form of treatment for back pain.
Some interesting evidence was put forth by a recent 2019 research study published in Ireland. According to the data they collected, around 40% of medical students believed that bed rest is the best treatment for back pain. It is important to note that up to 80% of adults develop lower back pain during their lifetime, hence, it is a very common clinical complaint which demands the right course of treatment. Naturally, resting the affected portion of the body and reducing daily tasks as it recovers, is the instinctive response to extreme pain. However, recent clinical literature suggests otherwise. Although you might want to lay down for a while if your back pain is serious, extended bed rest may not be the wisest way to go about your ailment. Nodding along to this refutation, The Australasian Faculty of Musculoskeletal Medicine determines in its guidelines for treating back pain that staying active and avoiding unnecessary bed rest can be key in managing your back pain.
iii) Opioids, even when prescribed for managing pain, lead to addiction.
It is no secret that opioids are amongst the best medicines available for moderate to severe pain. Over the years, there has been consensus in the medical community that they are effective for managing chronic pain, however, in recent years, skeptics have argued that the use of opioids paves ample room for potential drug abuse. We dug into such claims and found out that there was very little truth to them. Interestingly, when administered correctly at an adequate dosage to alleviate discomfort, there is no evidence that opioids contribute to potential addiction. The latest research in this regard has suggested the contrary. Studies indicate that the incidence of addiction is less than 1% for patients who used opioids for short-term pain management. Rather, it is encouraged to introduce opioids when needed, and their dosage to be appropriately tapered off as pain is relieved..
iv) Cold weather makes you sick.
The cold end of the temperature spectrum has always been linked with sickness. Be it cold water, a cold shower or the cold weather, you will always find someone who will tell you that the cold will predispose you to illness. It goes without saying that winters are classically associated with the flu season, but that has more to do with people staying indoors,which increases the chances of them falling sick. Various studies have demonstrated that we may experience more cold symptoms when we are chilly, but the weather itself does not render us more vulnerable to viruses. Another research published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1968 concluded that there was no statistical significance between inhaling viruses that caused the common cold in a chilly temperature as compared to a warmer temperature. This effectively proved that it is always the causative microorganism that induces a disease and not the temperature of one’s surroundings. Although these findings are over 60 years old, they are still struggling to find acceptance and acknowledgement in our society.
v) Cracking your knuckles damages your joints or causes arthritis.
I have always been a naturally fidgety person, hence, cracking my knuckles has been one of my favorite pastimes, one that never went uncriticized. During my time in med school, countless colleagues of mine have pointed out that doing so is really harmful for my joints and if I don’t stop soon, I might even end up giving myself arthritis! Well, to my delight, science begs to differ. Various studies, most notably one from Harvard Medical School, concluded that cracking or popping of joints is completely harmless as long as it does not cause any pain. The cracking sound is produced because of the nitrogen bubbles that are present in the joint space and it has nothing to do with deformation of bones or arthritis. However, if the cracking does cause pain then you are advised to see a physician regarding it at the earliest convenience. Having said that, stay safe and happy (painless) cracking to all my fidgety peeps out there!
This concludes our list debunking widely believed medical myths. By promoting healthy discourse about prevalent misconceptions, not only are many fallacies dismissed, but many legitimate concerns are addressed too. The end goal should be for knowledge-seekers to interact with objectively correct evidence so that they can see where such fallacious beliefs stem from and how they should go about uprooting them; permeating correct information to their patients and the rest of the world. So here’s to always valuing facts over hearsay!