Lower back pain is an common feeling of discomfort that accounts for around one-third of all work-related disabilities around the world. Evidence has shown that people who spend the majority of their day sitting are at the highest for lower back pain, which is why many people turn to physical activity in hopes of salvaging their posture. A recent study led by Dr. Daniel Steffens from the University of Sydney in Australia has found that continuous exercise, alone or in combination with education, can lower a person's risk of suffering from lower back pain.

Steffens and his colleagues conducted an exhaustive review of medical literature that included 23 published reports from 21 randomized clinical trials and 30,850 participants. Researchers focused their attention on potential preventive measures we can take to prevent lower back pain, and included long-term exercise, education, back belts, and shoe inserts. Although back belts, shoe inserts, and education alone had no impact on lower back pain prevention, exercise with or without education reduced both the risk for lower back pain and the use of sick leave.

"Although our review found evidence for both exercise alone (35 percent risk reduction for an LBP [low back pain] episode and 78 percent risk reduction for sick leave) and for exercise and education (45 percent risk reduction for an LBP episode) for the prevention of LBP up to one year, we also found the effect size reduced (exercise and education) or disappeared (exercise alone) in the longer term (more than one year). This finding raises the important issue that, for exercise to remain protective against future LBP, it is likely that ongoing exercise is required,” the research team said in a statement.

Now that we know continuous exercise is the key to preventing lower back pain, it’s time to decide which type of exercise is best. After all, research also shows that too much exercise, improper form, or exercise that puts too much stress on the spine can actually cause lower back pain. To decide, you'll first need to determine what's causing your lower back pain. Pain in the area between the ribs and legs is most commonly caused by intervertebral disc degeneration — when the rubbery discs in our lower back lose their integrity and cushioning. This is often the result of aging and physical inactivity.

Keeping in mind that aging and a lack of exercise are common causes for lower back pain, a similar study conducted by researchers from the University of Jaen in Spain revealed that older women suffering from lower back pain can significantly improve their balance and reduce their fear of falling by adding Pilates to their physical therapy routine. Researchers found that Pilates and similar forms of exercise that stress controlled movement to improve core strength, posture, and balance help strengthen muscles in our lower and upper back, hips, glutes, and inner thighs.

As many of us know all too well, finding the time to exercise after a long day of work is easier said than done. Due to this very common barrier, workout regimens that can be performed at our desk or in our bedroom, like deskercises and office yoga, have gained quite a bit of attention around the fitness community. If you’re really interested in preventing the physical inactivity that comes with a desk job, check out my colleague’s review of LifeSpan’s Treadmill Desk.

Source: Hancock M, Teixeira-Salmela L, Steffens D, et al. Prevention of Low Back PainA Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2016.