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Exercise prevents low back pain

A 3D xray of a body showing the spineA recently published study has found that exercise is the most effective method in preventing low back pain (LBP). This is great news, as LBP is a common problem and exercise is something that all of us can include in our lives in some form or another, it has a tremendous number of other health benefits too and can be free!

The study refers to non-specific (mechanical) low back pain, which accounts for the vast majority (about 85%) of all cases of LBP (excluding serious pathologies like cancer or ‘specific’ pathologies like a recent fracture). LBP is extremely common; most of us will either experience LBP ourselves or know someone who has had LBP, as 8 out of 10 people are affected at some point in their lives. Persistent LBP has been shown to be a leading cause of disability and costs the UK economy £12.3 billion annually.

Recurrence Rate

One of the reasons that LBP can be problematic is that there is a high recurrence rate. About 50% of those who experience an episode of LBP will go on to have a recurrence within 1 year. This large study carried out by the University of Sydney investigated a range of preventative strategies including exercise. Results from 21 clinical trials involving 30,850 participants from a number of countries were consolidated and analysed. Exercise in combination with education (e.g. lifting and sitting posture advice) was shown to reduce risk of a LBP episode by 45%. Exercise reduced the risk of sick leave by 78%.

A choice of exercise

In this study, a number of different types of exercise were reported to be effective, including general aerobic exercise (such as walking), stretches and strengthening exercises. In the scientific literature, no single form of exercise has been shown to be more superior to another to prevent or treat LBP. Exercise is an effective preventative strategy for LBP as it optimises spinal health by improving circulation, spinal flexibility, muscle strength and endurance and through encouraging normal movement. From a psychological perspective, exercise is known to improve confidence with movement, reduce fear associated with movement and elevate mood, whilst allowing an individual to take an active approach to recovery. It is worth noting that these psychological factors are all risk factors for a back problem becoming persistent, if not addressed.

There is a wealth of choice these days in terms of exercise options, including all sorts of sporting activities, classes, gym, home exercise DVD’s, Apps, You Tube videos etc and not forgetting good old-fashioned walking, frequently cited as the most beneficial exercise of all! From my experience, the best form of exercise is the one that someone will feel motivated to do!

Sometimes individuals who have or have had LBP either lack confidence to exercise or find certain exercises aggravate their problem. They sometimes receive conflicting messages from loved ones, colleagues or the media about what they should or shouldn’t do for their back, all of which can be confusing. This is when a clinical assessment with a Physiotherapist can be really valuable, as a Physio can prescribe an exercise programme tailored to the individuals’ needs and goals, including specific exercises and/or general exercise advice.

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