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Targeted Exercise Helps Lower Back Pain

  • Date: 2016/01/24 (Rev. 2016/06/12)
  • Santa Rosa Orthopaedics - Total Spine Health Program - srortho.com
  • Synopsis : Provide insights into lower back pain and new study indicating exercise can have a positive impact for chronic symptoms.

Main Document

When the short days of winter combine with the wet and blustery weather patterns we've been seeing on the west coast lately - it's not always easy to get out of bed and get on with the day but when you have chronic back pain to deal with - it's an even greater challenge. There is some good news this month from researchers for patients who suffer from chronic back pain and persistent spine issues. A new study released on January 7th, clearly demonstrates that targeting exercises to muscles that support and control the spine may offer a significant strategy to reducing pain and long term disability commonly caused by chronic lower back pain.

Low back pain (LBP), also known as lower back pain or lumbago, is a common disorder involving the muscles and bones of the back. Lower back pain is not a specific disease but rather a complaint that may be caused by a large number of underlying problems of varying levels of seriousness.

  • Lower back pain - Defined as pain, muscle tension, or stiffness localized below the costal margin and above the inferior gluteal folds, with or without sciatica, and is defined as chronic when it persists for 12 weeks or more.
  • Non-specific low back pain - Defined as pain not attributed to a recognizable pathology (e.g., fracture, inflammation, infection, tumor, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis).

More than 70 percent of persons in developed countries will experience low back pain at some time, which usually improves within two weeks; however, about 10 percent remain unable to work and about 20 percent have persistent symptoms at one year.

Back Pain is a Serious Issue

Lower back pain is reported to be one of the most common health complaints worldwide. For many people back pain can contribute to long term health issues that also takes a toll on a person's ability to maintain a livelihood. As the number one cause of job disability in the world, back pain is most often reported after someone lifts something too heavy causing them to overstretch or strain the back, frequently resulting in a sprain or spasm in one of the muscles or ligaments.

On-the-job injuries are usually caused by poor body mechanics affecting the way people stand, walk, lift, carry, reach, bend, sit and sleep - all situations in which the posture is too often flat, and the back is not adequately arched. But in more serious situations, when the spine becomes overly strained or compressed, a disc - the spongy, multi-function structures that lie between the spine's vertebrae - can rupture or bulge outwardly, putting pressure on the bundle of nerves that are rooted to the spinal cord, resulting in severe pain.

Results of the Study

Focusing on common back injuries researchers used motor control exercises, which are exercises aimed at improving coordination of the muscles, particularly those that control and support the spine. Patients were initially directed by a special therapist to practice normal use of the muscles by performing simple tasks. As the patient's ability increased the exercises became more complex and included practical tasks that the person might perform during normal work and/or with moderate athletic activities. Researchers found that people who used motor control exercises experienced noticeable improvements, particularly pertaining to pain and the resulting disability as compared to patients who received minimal intervention or to patients to underwent no intervention associated with an exercise program.

Targeting the strength and coordination of muscles that support the spine through motor control exercise certainly offers an alternative approach to treating lower back pain.

Treating Low Back Pain

Obviously, treatment for low back pain depends upon the patient's history and the type and severity of pain, and not every type of back pain will respond the same way to a specialized exercise program, so it's always good to get a professional opinion from a qualified orthopaedic specialist. Occasionally low back pain may indicate a more serious medical problem. Severe symptoms such as these would require immediate contact with a doctor to prevent permanent damage:

  • Pain with fever
  • Pain associated with loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Pain when coughing
  • Progressive weakness in the legs

Any numbness and weakness in the legs, or bowel and bladder problems, can be a sign of nerve damage requiring immediate medical attention.

Minor Back Pain

In the case of most minor back pain issues, studies have long demonstrated it that resisting movement or keeping the back inert after an injury is not the best way to go. In fact, following a short period of rest, light physical activity is generally the best option for most patients. Once recovered, a physician or orthopedic surgeon may recommend a moderate exercise routine including; speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding to help increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga can also help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture.

Learn More

The Total Spine Health Program at Santa Rosa Orthopaedics is co-directed by Dr. Christian Athanassious and Dr. Michael J. Star. Many patients arrive at the Total Spine Health Program with conditions that may never require surgery. With appropriate diagnosis, the SRO team is often able to provide effective non-surgical treatment but when conservative care is not enough, surgery may be indicated. Our physical therapists work closely with the surgeons to provide post-operative protocols designed to safely guide patients through the rehabilitation process. The Total Spine Health Program at SRO strives to do everything possible to get patients back to doing the things they love most. To learn more visit the SRO website or call 707.546.1922.

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