The Effect of Exercise on Chronic Low Back Pain
Updated: Mar 8
Do you suffer from Low Back Pain? If you do, you are certainly not alone. In 2014–15, an estimated 3.7 million Australians (1 in 6 people) reported suffering from chronic back pain, and approximately 80% of the adult population experience low back pain at some point in their lives. It is also one of the most common causes of job-related disability and therefore is a primary contributor to absent workdays.
Both men and women are equally affected by low back pain (LBP), and intensities can vary from a dull, constant ache, to a sudden, sharp sensation, that can leave a person feeling quite debilitated.
What is Chronic Low Back Pain?
There are several types of low back pain that can be experienced by an individual. The main difference between chronic LBP and other types, is that chronic LBP is defined as pain that persists for 12 weeks or longer. Approximately 20% of people affected by acute LBP develop chronic LBP, with symptoms often persisting for one year after initial onset.
There are several sources of LBP, one is the general degeneration of the spine associated with normal wear and tear that occurs in the joints, discs, and bones of the spine as people age. Other common causes of LBP are mechanical in nature, such as; disc disorders, sprains and strains, radiculopathy, sciatica, or skeletal irregularities like scoliosis.
The Effect of Exercise on Non-Specific Low Back Pain
There are a variety of treatment techniques available for chronic low back pain. However, there is substantial evidence supporting the effectiveness of exercise and movement. It is now recommended that bed rest should be limited and individuals suffering from LBP should begin stretching, strengthening exercises and resume normal daily activities as soon as possible, whilst avoiding movements that aggravate their pain.
Current evidence tells us that musculoskeletal strengthening of the lower back muscles can reduce pain and a general exercise programme tailored to an individual’s needs, combining strength, flexibility, and aerobic fitness is most beneficial for managing chronic LBP.
Improving core activation and muscular strength can also assist to support the lumbar spine. Improving the flexibility of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the lower back can help to increase range of motion and can assist with the patient’s functional movement. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the soft tissues in the lower back, which helps with the healing process and reducing stiffness.
There is even evidence to suggest that bed rest alone may make back pain worse and can ultimately lead to secondary complications such as depression, decreased muscle tone, and blood clots in the legs.
Three Examples of Exercises that can Help to Relieve LBP
1. Pelvic Tilts
Lie on your back with your knee bent and feet flat on the floor.
Pull your bellybutton towards your spine and clench your buttock muscles to roll your tail bone up off the floor.
The majority of the effort should come from your abdominal and buttock muscles.
Your lower back should press firmly into the floor.
Relax and Repeat.
x10 reps x2 sets
2. Knee Rocks
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
Keeping your shoulders flat on the floor, roll both knees out to one side.
Hold this position for 5-10 seconds.
You may feel the stretch in your hips, as well as your lower back.
Bring your knees back to the middle before repeating the same movement on the other side.
x10 reps x2 sets
Lie on your back.
Bend both knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
Squeeze your buttocks and push your weight through the heels of your feet to lift your buttocks from the floor.
Slowly lower your hips and place your buttocks back on the floor.
Repeat this exercise and remember to continue to breathe properly.
x10 reps x2 sets
Before attempting any of these exercises at home, book an assessment with your Physiotherapist prior, to ensure they are safe and appropriate for you.