It has been estimated that eighty percent of people will experience back pain at some point during their lives. It’s one of the most common health challenges, yet many people fail to find lasting relief, even after seeking medical help.
If you visit a doctor for back pain, you’re likely to receive a prescription as a solution. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the recommended first-line drug treatment for back pain, despite the fact that a recent systematic review and meta-analysis found it to be ineffective for this purpose.
In an effort to determine what was really effective for preventing back pain, studies including over 30,000 people were conducted to conclude that exercises was superior in preventing back pain, over shoe insoles and back belts.
Indeed, results indicated that among people who had experienced back pain, those who exercised had a 25 percent to 40 percent lower risk of having another episode within a year than those who did no exercise.
Further, the type of exercise didn’t seem to matter. Strength exercises, aerobics, flexibility training and stretching were all beneficial in lowering the risk of back pain. This makes sense since your body needs regular activity to remain pain-free.
For example, when you sit for long periods of time, you typically end up shortening your iliacus, psoas, and quadratus lumborum muscles that connect from your lumbar region to the top of your femur and pelvis.
When these muscles are chronically short, it can cause severe pain when you stand up as they will effectively pull your lower back (lumbar) forward.
Imbalance among the anterior and posterior chains of muscles leads to many of the physical pains you experience. By rebalancing and strengthening these muscles, you can remedy many pains and discomforts, including low back pain and similar pains, like neck pain.
In one study of neck-pain patients, for instance, 30 percent of those who exercised became pain-free compared to just 13 percent of those treated with medication.
Motor Control Exercise May Help Reduce Lower-Back Pain
While virtually any type of exercise may be beneficial for most low back pain, there’s one type in particular that’s worth giving a try, especially if your back pain is recurrent or chronic — motor control exercise (MCE).
Motor control is your ability to direct and regulate movement. Since motor control starts in your brain, the idea behind motor control exercise for low back pain is to re-teach your brain how to coordinate and control your trunk muscles.
In people with low back pain, it’s thought that the ability to properly control these muscles has been lost or is malfunctioning, ultimately leading to pain and functional disability.
Motor control exercises are not like a typical gym workout; they teach you how to isolate and “switch on” certain muscles, then incorporate the related movements into your daily activities. In most cases, you’ll start with a physical therapist who can identify which muscles are a problem for you.
The therapist will then work with you to control the muscles in simple postures; at first this is typically done while lying down. For instance, you may be asked to lie on your side and then draw your lower abdomen in toward your spine.
The therapist will then work with you until you’re able to use the proper muscles to correctly draw in your abdomen, a prerequisite to moving on to more challenging activities.
Once that is mastered, you’ll move on to learning how to control and properly use certain muscles while standing, walking and engaging in more complex functional activities.