Past research has shown that weak core muscles can affect spinal stability, which can increase one’s risk for low back pain. This is why low back pain patients are often advised to either become physically active or remain as active as possible, not only to aid in the management of their present condition but also reduce the risk of recurrence. Is general physical activity the best approach or should a patient also engage in exercises that specifically target the abdominal muscles?
To find out, researchers conducted a ten-year study that included 600 patients with recurrent low back pain who were separated into four groups: strengthening exercises, flexibility exercises, strengthening exercises with abdominal bracing (the act of tightening the stomach muscles as if one is expecting a punch to the gut) during both exercise and daily activities, and flexibility exercises with abdominal bracing during both exercise and daily activities. The research team checked in with each participant once a year regarding both the frequency, intensity, and duration of their low back pain, as well as the frequency, intensity, and duration of their exercise habits.
The data show that the patients in the abdominal-bracing groups experienced better outcomes; however, the intensity and duration of exercise did not seem to have an effect. Rather, the investigators observed a link between the frequency of exercise and abdominal bracing during regular activities and a reduction in low back pain frequency, intensity, and duration. The authors of the study speculate that frequently contracting the abdominal muscles increases trunk muscle stiffness, acting like a back belt on demand, and the combination of exercise with abdominal bracing should be recommended as a long-term management strategy for patients with recurrent back pain.
In a separate study that included 48 chronic low-back pain patients, researchers observed that walking combined with lumbar stabilization exercises reduced low back pain and also improved core muscle endurance, which may reduce the risk for future episodes.
The findings highlight the importance of following your doctor of chiropractic’s recommendations to stay active and perform specific exercises to strengthen the lower back and core muscles, not only to help reduce your present back pain but lower the risk of recurrence.