Is Exercise the Best Medicine for Back Pain?

Back Pain is a universal condition that is estimated to affect more than 12% of the world’s population at any one time.

Something that most of us will experience at some point in our lives, backache or lower back pain (LBP) is generally caused by a sedentary lifestyle, bad posture, incorrect lifting of heavy items, or bending awkwardly, and while it will usually improve within just a few weeks, some people suffer chronic back pain that can last for months, even years. As a result, some 10 million working days were lost in the UK in 2015, resulting in an estimated £1 billion in lost revenue due to back pain.

The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has said that the modern “couch potato lifestyle” is to blame for the increase in the number of back related conditions reported each year. Sitting at a computer or desk all day places immense pressure on the discs and spine, which in turn builds up tension in the lower back, and so it is essential that office workers take regular breaks to relive the burden on the back and remove unnecessary strain.


Common Treatments for Back Pain


While there is no short-term cure for back pain, the National Health Service (NHS) recommends that people with backache try to remain as active as possible, use hot or cold compression packs, and take pain relief medications to ease the symptoms of their condition.

Those suffering with long-term chronic back pain may be prescribed stronger painkillers by their GP or medical healthcare professional, and referred to a chiropractor or physiotherapists who will generally recommend specific exercises to strengthen the lower back and improve the posture, but in severe cases, surgery may be the only option… or is it?


New Research on Treatment for Back Pain


A recent study published by JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that exercise and education could be highly effective at reducing the risk of lower back pain and improving long-term conditions.

The research, carried out by Dr. Daniel Steffens of the University of Sydney, included randomised clinical trials on 30,850 participants, and found that exercise alone could reduce the risk of lower back pain (and the sick leave associated with it), at least in the short-term, and that exercise combined with education is likely to reduce the risk of back pain altogether.

The study also found that traditional back pain treatments such as back belts and shoe insoles do not prevent lower back pain, and that the quality of the evidence suggesting that education and ergonomics can be used to treat back pain is “very low”.


What the NHS has to Say…


The British National Health Service was quick to comment on the article released in the Daily Mirror Newspaper relating to the above study, and while they agree that the study adds weight to the suggestion that exercise may be useful in preventing back pain, it does not look at treatments for existing back pain, and so the findings should be “viewed with caution”.

In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) currently recommends that people suffering with non-specific lower back pain stay active and exercise regularly as part of an early management plan, but the NHS suggest that this course of treatment may not provide suitable pain relief for those with chronic back pain, and that the results of the study may not be applicable to everyone.

Can exercise can reduce the number of sick days taken by people with lower back pain? The jury is still out on that one, but regular exercise has so many other health benefits that it must be worth a try!