Exercise is untapped prevention method for back pain

According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) despite exercise's effectiveness in preventing and improving chronic back pain, it is rarely prescribed as treatment. The study, led by University of Sydney health researcher Chris Maher, used data from 21 studies from around the world on treating and preventing lower-back pain that involved over 30,000 participants in total.

With this data, Maher and his colleagues discovered that exercise helped lessen back pain and reduce the risk of repeated pain one year after an episode between 25 and 40 percent. They also found that the type of exercise didn't influence the treatment's effectiveness, whether it was targeted at core strengthening, aerobic exercising or flexibility and stretching. Despite this overwhelming proof for effectiveness, the data showed that fewer than half the patients in the studies participate in an exercise program.

In an interview with NPR, Maher explained how the health care industry has limited public knowledge on exercise's impact on back pain. He said that most of the studies referenced in his research used only a small number of subjects, which prevents conclusive research on a potentially life-changing topic. Maher also mentioned that on top of its health implications, changing the way health care professionals view back pain treatment can have financial ramifications as well.

"When you start packaging it all up, the costs around the world are horrendous in terms of how much low-back pain costs and that's why prevention is so important," Maher told NPR.

He cited massive costs on treatments, imaging, surgery, pain medicine and the cost of missed workdays adding up to an estimated $80 billion spent by the United States on spine problems and lower back pain. Misinformation, Maher said, has pervaded the national perception of back pain and derailed proper treatment. That's why he emphasized education as a key aspect of improving back pain, which he supported with findings in the study. For example, many believe that rest helps back pain when the opposite is actually true. The more you use your back, Maher said, the stronger and healthier it becomes. 

The research by Maher and company adds another point to the argument that lower back pain has more to do with overall lifestyle choices than specific incidents. Other studies have found that quitting smoking can prevent back pain as well. Just as smoking can dry out your skin, it can also dry the jelly-like discs that absorb shock in the spine.

If you're experiencing chronic lower back pain, schedule an appointment with a professional chiropractor today.