Aerobic exercise can treat your back pain.

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    Low back pain is a major cause of distress and disability affecting over 90% of Americans. Unfortunately, treatment can be difficult.

    Acute low back pain is defined as symptoms lasting for a few days to a few weeks. Common causes include injury from sports, work or accidents, irritation of an existing arthritic spine, and/or other stresses on the spine and muscles in the back. Chronic low back pain is defined as symptoms lasting over 3 months. Causes are more difficult to ascertain.

    Exercise is well documented to help reduce pain and improve function in patients with both acute and chronic low back pain (1,2,3). A recent study evaluated two groups, one simply took over the counter anti-inflammatory medication without exercise, and the other began a home exercise program under the supervision of an Orthopaedic Surgeon. The home exercise program group did significantly better in terms of reduction in pain, improved function and flexibility (1,2,3,4,5).

    Aerobic activity, muscle strengthen and stretching exercises is usually recommended. Please discuss these programs with your Orthopaedic Spine Specialist.

    Disc degeneration is also a known cause of back pain, disc herniation, degenerative spondylolisthesis, and degenerative scoliosis. Disc degeneration is a normal part of aging. As we become older, the proteins in our discs begin to breakdown and our discs degenerate. Animal studies has found that as little as 3-weeks of a running regimen was enough to increase disc proteins (5). This new data suggests that running and aerobic activity can help prevent and certainly reduce back pain. We should understand that these are simply animal studies. However, such studies provide some insight as to why exercise could help reduce symptoms.

    In large clinical studies, many reasons contribute to the reduction of pain including, increased pain threshold, restoring lumbosacral motion, strengthening of trunk muscles, an emphasis on correct body mechanics, and improved mood. Routine and daily activities include stretching exercises, swimming, walking, and development of proper posture and body mechanics. Low impact exercises are recommended. An exercise program should not be started during the first 2 weeks after the onset of acute low back pain.

    Please consult a spine specialist prior to beginning or ending a exercise program.


(1) Kuukkanen T, Malkia E. Muscular performance after a 3 month progressive physical exercise program and 9 month follow-up in subjects with low back pain. A controlled study. Scand J Med Sci Sports 1996;6:112–21.

(2) Mannion AF, Taimela S, Muntener M, et al. Active therapy for chronic low back pain part 1. Effects on back muscle activation, fatigability, and strength. Spine 2001;26:897–908.

(3) Mooney V. Manual therapy and exercise therapy in patients with chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial with 1-year follow-up. Spine 2004;29:107; author reply 107–8.

(4) Shirado O, Ito T, Kikumoto T, et al. A novel back school using a multidisciplinary team approach featuring quantitative functional evaluation and therapeutic exercises for patients with chronic low back pain: the Japanese experience in the general setting. Spine 2005;30:1219–25.

(5) Brisby H, Wei AQ, Molloy T, Chung SA, Murrell GA, Diwan AD. The effect of running exercise on intervertebral disc extracellular matrix production in a rat model. Spine. 1;35(15):1429-36 Jul 2010.