Researchers offer a breath of relief for those struggling with low back pain: A recent study has identified a simple, accessible exercise that can reduce the risk of recurrence by half.

Lower back pain is a significant public health concern. Beyond the discomfort it causes, this condition often disrupts daily life and reduces productivity. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide, impacting approximately 619 million people.

The debilitating condition can recur in around 70% of cases. For patients with low back pain, exercise is often recommended to help prevent recurrence.

The researchers behind the latest study published in the journal Lancet examined the effectiveness of a simple, accessible, and low-cost intervention for low back pain: walking. They then discovered that regular walking significantly benefited individuals who had experienced at least one episode of low back pain.

Those who engaged in regular walking remained pain-free for nearly twice as long as those who did not incorporate walking into their routine.

"Walking is a low-cost, widely accessible, and simple exercise that almost anyone can engage in, regardless of geographic location, age, or socioeconomic status," Mark Hancock, a senior author of the study said.

The findings were based on a trial involving 701 adults who had recently recovered from an episode of low back pain. The researchers randomly allocated participants to either an individualized walking program and six physiotherapist-guided education sessions over six months, or to a control group. The participants were then followed up for between one and three years, depending on the time they joined the trial.

"The intervention group had fewer occurrences of activity limiting pain compared to the control group, and a longer average period before they had a recurrence, with a median of 208 days compared to 112 days," Hancock said.

The study has not examined the exact mechanism by which walking helps with the prevention of low back pain. However, the researchers suggest that the benefits likely stem from a combination of factors, including enhanced muscle strength, stress relief, and a greater likelihood of maintaining a healthy weight.

"We don't know exactly why walking is so good for preventing back pain, but it is likely to include the combination of the gentle oscillatory movements, loading and strengthening the spinal structures and muscles, relaxation and stress relief, and release of 'feel-good' endorphins. And of course, we also know that walking comes with many other health benefits, including cardiovascular health, bone density, healthy weight, and improved mental health," Hancock added.