Low back strengthening for the prevention and treatment of low back pain. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 18-24, 1999.
Purpose: Chronic low back pain (CLBP) remains one of the most difficult and costly medical problems in the industrialized world. A review of nineteenth and early twentieth century spine rehabilitation shows that back disorders were commonly treated with aggressive and specific progressive resistance exercise (PRE). Despite a lack of scientific evidence to support their efficacy, therapeutic approaches to back rehabilitation over the past 30 yr have focused primarily upon passive care for symptom relief. Recent spine rehabilitation programs have returned to active reconditioning PRE centered around low back strengthening to restore normal musculoskeletal function. Research has shown that lumbar extension exercise using PRE significantly increases strength and decreases pain in CLBP patients. It appears that isolated lumbar extension exercise with the pelvis stabilized using specialized equipment elicits the most favorable improvements in low back strength, muscle cross-sectional area, and vertebral bone mineral density (BMD). These improvements occur with a low training volume of 1 set of 8 to 15 repetitions performed to volitional fatigue one time per week. CLBP patients participating in isolated lumbar extension PRE programs demonstrate significant reductions in pain and symptoms associated with improved muscle strength, endurance, and joint mobility. Improvements occur independent of diagnosis, are long-lasting, and appear to result in less re-utilization of the health care system than other more passive treatments. Low back strengthening shows promise for the reduction of industrial back injuries and associated costs.