Exercise Rx for Lower Back Pain
Maybe you hurt your back lifting a box in the basement, or it might have happened when you jumped down from the passenger seat of your friend's SUV. It's also entirely possible that you woke up with a major pain in your back just from sleeping in an awkward position. If, like many people, you have experienced lower back pain, chances are good you'd like to find a way to prevent it from happening again. Good news on that front now comes from recent research which suggests there is a highly effective deterrent that's available to all of us: regular workouts.
The study, which took place at the University of Sydney in Australia, found that a well-designed daily exercise routine may be the best way to avoid triggering an episode of lower back pain.1 The subjects were close to 31,000 adults who had participated in one of 23 different studies the investigators analyzed in order to compare the effectiveness of various strategies for preventing lower back pain.
The scientists examined the results of each of these studies to determine which methods of preventing lower back pain actually achieve the most success. The strategies evaluated included exercise programs, educational instruction, wearing special belts to protect the back while lifting, use of shoe insoles, and ergonomic modifications. Not one of these methods other than working out was shown to be effective on its own for avoiding lower back pain or decreasing the amount of sick time needed to recover from a back pain episode.
It was only the exercise programs, or a combination of exercise and education, that made an actual impact in back pain prevention. Those volunteers who took part in a regimen of exercise had a 35 percent lower risk of lower back pain occurrences and reduced the amount of sick days taken by an impressive 78 percent over the course of one year. And adding an educational component to a workout routine made even greater improvements as those subjects were found to be 45 percent less likely to experience lower back pain in a year versus their peers who did not exercise and received educational training.
The exercise regimens considered in this investigation had been specifically created to enhance flexibility, improve posture, increase aerobic fitness, and strengthen muscles in the back, core of the body, arms, and legs. In addition, the educational program was tailored to back pain sufferers to teach proper techniques for lifting safely, provide information on correcting posture mistakes, and participate in comprehensive training on issues of back health.
These findings, supported by the outcomes of a multitude of research trials that included a large number of participants, are important because lower back pain is such a common problem. It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of men and women in the United States have to deal with back pain at some point according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and in some cases, it becomes a chronic, recurring condition. Plus, a 2014 study at the University of Queensland in Australia showed that lower back pain is responsible for more disability around the world than almost 300 other conditions.2 Therefore, a method of avoiding lower back pain would be a wonderful help to the millions of people who often end up uncomfortable and miserable when an episode flares up.
The research also serves as a good reminder not to bother with devices that are marketed to make you think that they can solve all of your back problems. And, although pharmaceutical drugs were not covered in the study, they are a standard form of treatment that many doctors rely on for patients with back pain. But these medications, narcotics and muscle relaxants, often produce serious side effects and, in the case of narcotics, can be quickly addicting. Don't bother with over-the-counter stuff, either. A 2014 study at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia found that acetaminophen is no more effective for treating lower back pain than taking a placebo.3
Instead of going that route, take some time to learn about common mistakes in posture, lifting, and movement that are frequent triggers of lower back problems. Most essentially, start a regular exercise routine that includes cardiovascular activity, strength training, and flexibility work to lose excess weight that can contribute to back pain and support your back muscles to make them less prone to injury. If you stick with this plan, you might never have reason to complain about your aching back again.
- 1. Steffens, Daniel; et al. "Prevention of Low Back Pain." JAMA Internal Medicine. 11 January 2016. Accessed 20 January 2016. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2481158
- 2. Hoy, Damian; et al. "The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study." Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. 24 March 2014. Accessed 21 January 2016. http://ard.bmj.com/content/early/2014/02/14/annrheumdis-2013-204428
- 3. Williams, Christopher M.; et al. "Efficacy of paracetamol for acute low-back pain: a double-blind, randomised controlled trial." The Lancet. 23 July 2014. Accessed 21 January 2016. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60805-9/fulltext