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Exercise Intensity Matters in Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain Rehabilitation

VERBRUGGHE, JONAS1; AGTEN, ANOUK1; STEVENS, SJOERD1; HANSEN, DOMINIQUE1,2; DEMOULIN, CHRISTOPHE3; O. EIJNDE, BERT1; VANDENABEELE, FRANK1; TIMMERMANS, ANNICK1

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2019 - Volume 51 - Issue 12 - p 2434–2442
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002078
CLINICAL SCIENCES
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Introduction Exercise therapy (ET) is advocated as a treatment for chronic nonspecific low back pain (CNSLBP). However, therapy effect sizes remain low. In other chronic disorders, training at higher intensity has resulted in greater improvements on both general health related and disease specific outcomes compared to lower-intensity ET. Possibly, high-intensity training also improves effect sizes in CNSLBP.

Objective To compare the effects of a high-intensity ET program with a similar moderate-intensity ET program on disability, pain, function, exercise capacity, and abdominal/back muscle strength in persons with CNSLBP.

Methods In a randomized controlled trial, persons with CNSLBP performed a 12-wk ET program (24 sessions, 1.5 h per session, twice per week) at high-intensity training (HIT) or moderate-intensity training (MIT). Questionnaires to assess disability (Modified Oswestry Index [MODI]), pain intensity (Numeric Pain Rating Scale), and function (Patient Specific Functioning Scale), a cardiopulmonary exercise test to assess exercise capacity (V˙O2max, cycling time), and a maximum isometric muscle strength test to assess abdominal/back muscle strength (maximum muscle torque) were administered at baseline and after the training program.

Results Thirty-eight participants (HIT: n = 19, MIT: n = 19) were included (mean age, 44.1 yr, SD = 9.8, 12 males). Groups did not differ at baseline. Between group differences (P < 0.01) in favor of HIT were found for MODI, V˙O2max, and cycling time. Within group improvements (P < 0.01) were found in both groups on MODI (HIT:−64%, MIT:−33%), Numeric Pain Rating Scale (HIT, −56%; MIT, −39%), Patient-Specific Functioning Scale (HIT:+37%, MIT:+39%), V˙O2max (HIT:+14, MIT:+4%), cycling time (HIT:+18%, MIT:+13%), and back muscle strength (HIT:+10%, MIT:+14%).

Conclusions High-intensity training proved to be a feasible, well tolerated, and effective therapy modality in CNSLBP. Moreover, it shows greater improvements on disability and exercise capacity than a similar ET performed at moderate intensity.

1REVAL-Rehabilitation Research Center, BIOMED, Hasselt University, Hasselt, BELGIUM

2Jessa Hospital, Hasselt, BELGIUM

3Department of Sport and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Liege, Liege, BELGIUM

Address for correspondence: Jonas Verbrugghe, M.Sc., Hasselt University, Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences, REVAL Gebouw A, Agoralaan 5, 3590, Diepenbeek, Belgium; E-mail: jonas.verbrugghe@uhasselt.be.

Submitted for publication March 2019.

Accepted for publication June 2019.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (www.acsm-msse.org).

Online date: July 2, 2019

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine