Studies: Exercise helps back pain
Exercising may sometimes be a pain in the neck, but it can actually relieve some types of back pain, studies show.
In fact, when it comes to chronic lower-back pain, supervised stretching and muscle strengthening exercises may relieve the ache best.
Canadian researcher Dr. Jill A. Hayden, of the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto, led two reviews focusing on the effects of different exercise programs on various types of low back pain. Both were published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
The first review looked at more than 60 studies investigating the effect of exercise in general on different types of low back pain. The research included in the review involved nearly 6,400 people with back pain. Their back pain was categorized as acute (short-term and relatively severe), subacute, or chronic (lasting for more than three months).
While the trials showed a small benefit from gradually introducing and increasing exercise for subacute back pain and no clear benefit from exercise therapy on acute low back pain, there was "strong evidence" that exercise helped the people with chronic pain.
Having established the benefits of exercise for this particular group, Dr. Hayden then narrowed her focus to the 43 studies included in the original review that specifically looked at chronic low back pain, in order to determine what types of exercise may provide the biggest benefit.
The 43 studies looked at the effects of more than 70 different exercise treatments, which varied by level of supervision, type of exercise, frequency and duration of exercise, and more. For type of exercise, they found stretching and strengthening routines to be most effective at relieving pain and restoring function. What's more, "an individually designed, high-dose exercise program delivered through home exercises with regular practitioner follow-up" was found to have the most positive impact.
The researchers also noted that other treatment, such as over-the-counter pain relievers and manual therapy, may produce an increased benefit on top of the exercise.
But they added that benefits from any exercise program depend on the person with back-pain sticking with their routine, and noted that "strategies should be used to encourage adherence."
While back pain can't always be avoided, as in the case of injuries, the best treatment is always prevention. Consider these tips to minimize your risk:
- Maintain a healthy body weight to minimize stress on the back.
- Avoid prolonged sitting or standing.
- Add Pilates or another form of exercise that increases abdominal, back, and leg strength for added support.
- Wear supportive shoes.
- Take care to support your back and use the strength in your legs when lifting objects.