Low back pain: Exercise is key to prevention and chronic pain management

According to a HealthDay News report published Aug. 20, the initial intensity of low back pain along with the belief that the pain will persist, are key predictors of long term pain and disability. A recent Arthritis Research U.K. Primary Care Center study showed that those who experience severe short-term low back pain are at an increased risk for it becoming chronic, and that implementing exercise can be an effective prevention and pain management strategy.

Researchers followed 488 individuals treated for low back pain initially and at regular six month intervals for five years. Their findings, released by the American Pain Society on Aug.15, showed that those with higher levels of pain originally had a 12 percent higher risk of pain six months later, and a nine percent increased risk of pain five years later. Additionally, participants who believed their pain would persist, showed a four percent increased risk for pain at six months, and a six percent increased risk for lasting pain at five years respectively.

Up to 70 percent of Americans will experience low back pain at some point in their lives, and it is second only to headaches as the most common neurological ailment in the United States. Low back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability and costs Americans $50 billion each year.

Since patient beliefs on how long pain will last can impact the actual progression from short term to chronic, investigators believe their study confirms the importance of effective pain relief in the early treatment stages of low back pain. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH) recurring back pain resulting from improper body mechanics or other non-traumatic causes is often preventable; a combination of exercises that don't jolt or strain the back, maintaining correct posture, and lifting objects properly can help prevent injuries.

Furthermore, the NIH states that exercise may be the most effective way to speed recovery from low back pain, through helping to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles. Maintaining and building muscle strength is particularly important for persons with skeletal irregularities, and that keeping the muscles moving through gentle exercise can speed the recovery process. The NIH suggests a routine of back-healthy activities that incorporate stretching such as swimming, walking, and even yoga to improve coordination and develop proper posture and muscle balance to help ease pain.

Any mild discomfort felt at the start of these exercises should disappear as muscles become stronger, but the NIH cautions that if the discomfort continues or becomes more severe, patients should stop and contact a doctor. Always consult a professional before beginning any new exercise program.

Severe Low Back Pain May Foretell Future Woes: The Clinical Connection, Health Day News, Aug. 20, 2013

Severity of Acute Low Back Pain Predicts Development of Chronic Pain, American Pain Society Newsroom, Aug. 15, 2013

"Low Back Pain Fact Sheet" National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Publication date July 2003, updated May 2013