Back pain is very common in the UK, with almost two out of three people reporting lower back pain at some point in their lives.
According to Bupa, the cause isn’t normally serious and most of the time the pain improves within four to six weeks, but for some people, it can continue for months or even years.
Some people actually prolong their back pain out of a mistaken belief that physical activity will make the symptoms worse, and that having lots of bed rest will help.
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In fact, the reverse is true. Exercise strengthens the muscles in the lower back, alleviating and preventing lower back pain.
According to researchers, exercise also increases blood flow to the lower back area, which may reduce stiffness and speed up the healing process.
Evidence is increasingly shedding a light on the exercises that optimise this healing process, and a Cochrane Review showed that targeting exercises to muscles that support and control the spine offers an effective strategy to reduce pain and disability caused by lower back pain.
Motor control exercise is a popular form of exercise that aims to improve coordination of the muscles that control and support the spine.
Patients are initially guided by a therapist to practise normal use of the muscles with simple tasks.
As the patient’s skill increases the exercises become more complex and include the functional tasks that the person needs to perform during work and/or leisure activities.
To evaluate the effectiveness of this form of exercise in treating lower back pain, researchers pooled together data from 29 randomised trials involving a total of 2,431 men and women, aged between 22 and 55 years old.
The trials investigated the impact of using motor control exercises as a treatment for lower back pain compared with other forms of exercise or doing nothing.
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The Cochrane authors found that people who used motor control exercises experienced improvements, especially in pain and disability compared with minimal intervention.
When compared with other types of exercise at intervals between three and 12 months, motor control exercise provided similar results for pain and disability.
Commenting on the findings, Lead author, Physiotherapist Bruno Saragiotto, from The George Institute, University of Sydney, Australia, said: “Targeting the strength and coordination of muscles that support the spine through motor control exercise offers an alternative approach to treating lower back pain.
“We can be confident that they are as effective as other types of exercise, so the choice of exercise should take into account factors such as patient or therapist preferences, cost and availability.”
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In addition to physical therapies for lower back pain, some people may find psychological strategies effective.
Bupa explains: “It can be difficult to be optimistic when you’ve had back pain for a long time. But staying positive as well as staying active can help you recover and avoid it becoming long term.”
If you find your back pain is causing you to feel upset or worried, complimenting exercise with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help, notes the health body.
CBT is designed to help you understand your thoughts, feelings and actions, and change the way you react to and cope with pain.
If back pain persists, it may be the result of a specific medical reason, such as sciatica or a slipped (prolapsed) disc.
According to the NHS, back pain caused by a specific medical reason may require you to undergo a surgical procedure called radiofrequency denervation.
The health site explained: “This procedure involves inserting needles into the nerves that supply the affected joints. Radio waves are sent through the needles to heat the nerves, which stops them from sending pain signals.”
As with all procedures, radiofrequency denervation carries a risk of complications, including bleeding, bruising, infection and accidental nerve damage so it is important to discuss the risks with your surgeon before agreeing to treatment, cautions the health body.
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