Low back pain? Exercise may help

back painLow back pain is one of the most common ailments among adults in the U.S., with nearly 80 percent of Americans experiencing the ailment at some point during their life.

There are a wide range of treatments available for lower back pain, including anti-inflammatory medicines, chiropractics, massage and physical therapy. A new systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration investigates how well a certain type of exercise — motor control exercise — helps.

The idea behind motor control exercise is to build up the muscles that control and support the spine. Often patients learn these exercises in physical therapy. The exercises begin as simple movements, such as contracting inner abdominal muscles.  As the patients become stronger, they progress to more  complex and functional tasks, which can include movements balancing on a larger exercise ball or lifting weights.

The systematic review includes 29 randomized-controlled trials and a total of nearly 2,500 middle-aged patients. Some of the studies compared the muscle control exercises to no intervention, while others compared muscle control exercises to other forms of exercise, massage and chiropractics.

Reviewing the evidence, researchers found that muscle control exercises provided significant improvements in function and pain reduction compared to doing nothing, and were slightly better than manual therapies such as massage. Compared to other exercise programs, muscle control exercises showed similar improvement.  The researchers concluded that muscle control exercises are one option for patients who experience lower back pain.

“Targeting the strength and coordination of muscles that support the spine through motor control exercise offers an alternative approach to treating lower back pain,” explained lead author physiotherapist Bruno Saragiotto in a press release. “We can be confident that they are as effective as other types of exercise, so the choice of exercise should take into account factors such as patient or therapist preferences, cost, and availability.”

This review sheds some light on a personal experience for me. I began having lower back pain after the birth of my third child.  After several months of trying chiropractics and exercises at home, a physical therapist taught me some muscle control exercises. My pain dissipated within a few weeks, and I was eventually able to resume activities, such as swimming and running, that I was unable to do while experiencing back pain. I’ve kept doing the exercises ever since, and my back pain has never returned.

The take home message: Muscle control exercises help to relieve lower back pain and strengthen your spine over the long-term.


  1. Thank you for sharing the role about exercise in back pain recovery. Too many people believe the way to recovery from back pain is to restrict movement and lie down as much as possible.

  2. Faylinn says:

    Currently, I am experiencing a lot of back pain and am about to start going through the treatment process for it. Although I know that exercise is necessary, I find that the pain keeps me from feeling like I can do much of it. However, I do think that motor control exercises would be beneficial, like you said, because they would help my body learn to support the spine by building up muscle. However, what are some low-intensive motor control exercises that I can start doing?

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