Those who suffer lower back pain often turn to pieces of medical equipment such as back braces and shoe orthotics to alleviate discomfort. However, a new study reveals that those pain relieving remedies may be doing more harm than good.
According to a blog post in the New York Times Wellness section, research shows that exercise does better for an aching back than most belts, braces, or shoe inserts. About 80% of people in America suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, but sticking with the right type of exercise program might deter a recurrence of that pain.
Lower back pain develops for many different reasons, such as lifestyle choices, sports injuries, or even genetics. Although the issue is pervasive in the medical world, most underlying causes of back pain are unknown.
Some people have short bouts of back pain that goes away in about a week. Others experience pain much more frequently — so much so that it disrupts their everyday life.
The article claims that a full 75% of people who have had one debilitating episode of lower back pain will have another within a year.
“These repeated bouts can set off what doctors and researchers call a ‘spiral of decline,’ in which someone takes to his or her couch because of the pain,” says Gretchen Reynolds, author of the post. “This inactivity weakens muscles and joints. The person’s now-feebler back and core become less able to sustain the same level of activity as before and succumb when he or she tries to return to normal life, leading to more pain and more inactivity; and the spiral accelerates.”
Researchers set out to prove what works and what doesn’t when trying to eliminate back pain. After combing through more than 6,000 relevant studies, 23 were analyzed in depth that examined more than 30,000 participants in total.
“The prevention techniques under review included education about lifestyle changes, shoe orthotics, back belts, various types of exercise programs and exercise programs that also included some type of education about back-pain prevention,” writes Reynolds. The review considered studies that tested the effectiveness of a prevention program; the program was considered a success if a person went a year or more without complaining of debilitating back pain that caused them to miss work.
Success was limited. Education wasn’t enough to help back pain sufferers, and back belts or orthotics were almost completely ineffective.
Exercise programs proved to be one of the best preventative measures. In fact, “the size of the protective effect” from exercise “was quite large,” said Chris Maher, a professor at the George Institute, who oversaw the new review. “Exercise combined with education reduced the risk of an episode of low back pain in the next year by 45 percent. In other words, it almost halved the risk.”
According to the study, the type of exercise didn’t matter — it could be general aerobics, strength training, or simply just enjoying walking outside.
This is promising for a whole range of back pain sufferers because it proves that anyone can incorporate pain-saving exercise into their routine. In fact, a full 77% of people already consider outdoor recreation an important part of their lives.
Because of the strengthening nature of various exercise programs, participants are less likely to enter the “spiral of decline.” In summation, Reynolds states that if a person engages in regular exercise, they are “considerably less likely to be felled by more back pain within a year.”
Maher hopes to continue his studies to determine which types of exercise may be more helpful than others. He and his colleagues plan to follow people participating in various forms of exercise for several years to gather more conclusive results.