Does Exercise Really Help People with Low Back Pain?Although exercise is routinely prescribed for people with low back pain, its role in treatment is still unclear. A recent study showed what appeared to be significant benefits of exercise in the areas of pain, disability, and physical fitness. But the authors weren't sure whether the favorable results could be attributed to the exercises alone.
The authors followed two groups of people with low back pain. Both groups were given a fitness test. At first, both groups showed lower scores on the fitness test than others of their same age and sex. Patients with low back pain took part in exercise sessions three times week for six weeks. In each session, they did up to 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, five minutes of stretching, and muscle toning exercises for the upper and lower body.
After the six-week program, the exercisers showed significant improvements in their fitness scores. Their scores afterward were much higher than the other group of patients. Even more surprising, they scored higher than the healthy subjects who took the fitness test. Their reports of pain and disability also showed remarkable improvements after the exercise program ended.
At first glance, the results seem to show that exercise really helped people with low back pain. Because of some of the limitations in the study, however, it is still not clear whether exercise alone should be credited for all the improvements. The authors acknowledge that patients might have achieved better results because some of them received other treatments over the course of the exercise program. This makes it impossible to determine whether one of the other treatments, the exercise, or all the strategies together improved the patients' conditions.
Even though there is a question of just how effective exercise can be for people with low back pain, the authors believe their study "supports the hypothesis that a course of active treatment, such as exercise or conditioning, in conjunction with other forms of treatment, may be helpful in the management of patients with chronic low back pain."
Gabrielle Van Der Velde, BSc, DC, and Dale Mierau, MSc, DC. The Effect of Exercise on Percentile Rank Aerobic Capacity, Pain, and Self-Rated Disability in Patients With Chronic Low-Back Pain: A Retrospective Chart Review. In Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. November 2000. Vol. 81. No. 11. Pp. 1457-1463.
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