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Strength training helps back pain

Strength training helps back pain
If you have more or less continuous back pain, but doctors can't find a clear cause, strength training is likely to help. Sports scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada published an article on this in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. The researchers did a trial with fairly active men used to doing team sports for an hour twice a week and who had had back pain for an average of 2 years.

The 45 test subjects suffered from chronic nonspecific low back pain. They had pain, but no damage to nerves or vertebrae. The researchers were curious to know whether a strength training programme would help reduce back pain. This kind of training strengthens muscles, and strong muscles reduce the strain on the spinal column.

The programme lasted 16 weeks. Thirty men participated, of whom the 15 in the control group did no training.

For the first week the active group trained at 55 percent of the weight at which they were able to just do 1 rep (1RM). During the experiment the intensity was increased gradually up to the last week when the men trained at 79 percent of their 1RM. So the men did linear periodized training.

The subjects trained 4 times a week, taking 2 sessions to cover all muscle groups in the body. They took 1-2 minutes' rest between sets. They started out training as much as possible on machines, but as the experiment progressed they went over to free weights where possible. The table below shows the exercises the men did.

Strength training helps back pain

The researchers divided the men in the training group into 2 subgroups: a group with an average age of 52 [ME] and a group with an average age of 63 [OE]. They did this because they wanted to know whether older men react less well to strength training than younger ones.

The researchers got the men to fill out questionnaires in weeks 1, 8 and 12.

The Visual Analog Scale measures pain on a scale from 1-10. The lower the score, the less the pain.

The Oswestry Disability Index indicates to what extent people are capable of carrying out everyday activities. The scores range from 0-100. A score of 20-40 percent means you’re functioning, but have pain. A score of 40-60 percent means you are suffering from a good deal of pain and need to see a doctor.

The Physical Composite Summary and the Mental Composite Summary indicate your physical and mental state. The higher your scores, the better your quality of life. The scores range from 0 to 100.

Strength training helps back pain

The training programme was beneficial on all scores. When the researchers compared the effects for the two age groups, they found that the subjects in their sixties reacted as well as the subjects in their fifties.

Strength training helps back pain

The researchers believe that the success of the training programme lay in the fact that the subjects started off gently, and had time to get used to heavier weights. They also started on machines before changing to free weights. Another factor was that the training sessions were challenging in terms of intensity and volume.

J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jan;25(1):242-51.

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