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Summaries for Patients |

Exercise for Low Back Pain FREE

[+] Article and Author Information

The summary below is from the full report titled “Meta-Analysis: Exercise Therapy for Nonspecific Low Back Pain.” It is in the 3 May 2005 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 142, pages 765-775). The authors are J.A. Hayden, M.W. van Tulder, A.V. Malmivaara, and B.W. Koes.


Ann Intern Med. 2005;142(9):I-71. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-142-9-200505030-00005
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What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

Low back pain is a common problem that causes discomfort and disability. It may be acute (last less than 6 weeks), subacute (last 6 to 12 weeks), or chronic (last more than 12 weeks). Treatment includes decreasing pain and helping patients resume their normal activities through exercise therapy, patient education, and pain-relieving drugs (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Past reviews of studies suggested that exercise therapy might help chronic low back pain but not acute low back pain. Because several recent trials assess exercise therapy, an updated review of the evidence would be helpful.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

To see whether exercise therapy reduces pain and improves physical function in adults with different durations of low back pain.

Who was studied?

6390 adults with low back pain who participated in 61 trials of exercise therapy.

How was the study done?

The researchers searched the medical literature up to October 2004 to find randomized, controlled trials that compared exercise therapy with placebo, no treatment, conservative management, or another exercise group. They subdivided trials into 3 groups according to whether participants had acute, subacute, or chronic low back pain. They then combined data from the trials to see whether exercise reduced pain, improved physical function, and reduced work absenteeism in the 3 groups.

What did the researchers find?

Exercise therapy slightly decreased pain and improved physical function in adults with chronic low back pain. In adults with acute low back pain, exercise therapy had effects on pain similar to those of no treatment. In adults with subacute back pain, trials conducted in occupational settings suggested that exercise programs that gradually increased activity (graded-activity programs) decreased absenteeism from work.

What were the limitations of the study?

The authors found it difficult to compare studies. Studies defined low back pain differently and also used different ways to measure pain intensity and function. Some studies were small and of low quality.

What are the implications of the study?

Exercise therapy probably improves pain and function outcomes better than no treatment in adults with chronic, but not acute, low back pain.

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