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Exercise and Low Back Pain

Low back pain is one of the most common health problems in today’s work environment. It creates a substantial financial burden in treatments and work absenteeism. An episode of low back pain has a 50% chance of recurring again within one year.

A 2016 systematic review from the University of Sydney consisting of 21 randomized control trials and over 30,000 people found that exercise can reduce the risk of non specific low back pain. Exercise combined with low back pain education reduces the risk of low back pain by 45% in the short term (up to a year). Exercise alone reduces the risk of low back pain by 35% in the short term, but not in the long term (after one year). However, education alone has no effect on reducing low back pain in the short or long term. The types of exercises studied included improving core strength (abdominals and lumbar region), leg and back muscle strengthening, stretching, and cardiovascular workouts.

For exercise to remain protective against future low back pain, it is likely that ongoing exercise is required. The benefits of exercise are greater for short term results so people may want to consider consistent exercise as long term behaviour throughout their life.

Giving educational advice and advising people to stay physically active should be recommended in the prevention of low back pain. This is quite opposite from the school of thought that promotes bed rest, inactivity, and exercise avoidance to treat low back pain. It is important to have a health care professional examine you if you are experiencing low back pain, so you can better understand the mechanism of why you are in pain and the proper exercises to feel better.



Steffens D, et al. Prevention of Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta Analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine. Feb 2016; 176(2): 199-208

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