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An Alternative Therapy: Exercise for Back Pain

Lower back pain affects millions of people and can significantly reduce quality of life. Gomes-Neto and colleagues review the benefits of specialized exercise for back pain relief and find that it can be just as effective as other forms of therapy.


Lower back pain is a common condition affecting millions of people. Most people will experience lower back pain at some point in their life, and this condition can lower quality of life or result in disability. Manual and exercise therapies are the most common treatments for lower back pain, and in particular, stabilization exercises. Stabilization exercises aim to improve stability and function in the trunk muscles, which is thought to improve movement and control of the lower back. However, there is not much evidence for the effectiveness of these exercises.

In Physical Therapy in Sport, Gomes-Neto and colleagues performed a meta-analysis of the evidence for the effectiveness of stabilization exercises for back pain and compared it to the effectiveness of manual therapy and general exercise. The researchers included 11 studies on lower back pain patients with no other neurological conditions, with sample sizes for each study ranging between 30 and 172. All studies had randomly assigned some subset of patients to stabilization exercises as treatment. The studies then assessed pain severity, disability, and function using a variety of scales and assessments.

Gomes-Neto and colleagues found that patients who performed stabilization exercises as part of their treatment had significant improvements in pain severity. Stabilization exercises had about the same effect on pain as manual therapy. Patients who performed stabilization exercises or underwent manual therapy also experienced significantly reduced disability, and had better results than patients who performed general exercise. There were no significant differences in function between groups.

These results show that stabilization exercises are an effective treatment for back pain, and reduce both pain severity and disability. Exercises for back pain should focus on strengthening the large, deep muscles of the trunk rather than the superficial muscles used during general exercise. Unfortunately, different researchers use different definitions for what a stabilization exercise is, and the different studies analyzed by Gomes-Neto and colleagues used varying frequencies and durations of exercise for their patients.


Written By: C.I. Villamil

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