Jan. 4, 2000 (Baltimore) -- Low-impact aerobics can reduce chronic low-back
pain just as effectively as physical therapy or an exercise program of weight
lifting and exercise machines, according to a Swiss study published in the
December issue of the journal Spine. "The main finding of the
current study was that the three treatments administered ? proved to be equally
efficacious in their ability to reduce pain intensity, pain frequency, and
disability in tasks of daily living immediately after therapy," report the
researchers from the Schulthess Clinic and the University of Zurich-Irchel,
both in Zurich, Switzerland.
"Both personally and in the treatment of my patients, I have found
exercise a significant factor in [relieving] low-back pain," says Charles
Edwards, MD. "Because these authors have shown comparable results from
different exercise therapies, I think this is a significant contribution"
to literature supporting exercise for treating low-back pain. The results also
tell health care professionals that the cost, time, and aggravation associated
with some treatment options must be justified by showing that they are
superior, according to Edwards, who is a professor of surgery at the University
of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Pierce Dunn thought surgery had put an end to nearly 15 years of back pain.
After a double discectomy about eight years ago, he says, "I could wake up in
the morning without worrying that I wouldn't be able to get out of bed. I
became a human being again!"
Feeling revitalized, Dunn, now 57, a partner in a Baltimore investment
advisory firm, decided to return to his former hobby: golf. "I played as
frequently as I could," says Dunn. "Since then I've been told that golf is
about the worst thing...
Lead study researcher Anne F. Mannion, PhD, and colleagues assigned 132
patients with chronic low-back pain to one of three treatment groups:
traditional physiotherapy involving individual half-hour sessions with a
physical therapist; the David Back Clinic program, which patients attended in
groups of two or three and used weights for about an hour; and a 1-hour session
of low-impact aerobics. All patients were required to attend therapy twice a
week for 3 months.
Pain levels were assessed at the beginning of the study and after 3 months
of therapy. The researchers found that therapy significantly reduced both the
greatest levels and the average levels of pain after therapy, as compared with
the pre-therapy values. And no significant differences were found among the
three treatment groups. The average response reported by the study patients was
3.6 on a scale of 1 to 5 (1=much worse, 3=unchanged, 5=much better). The study
participants also reported that they experienced pain much less often after
therapy than before.
"It appears to me that ? exercise counters the vicious cycle of
decreased activity leading to weakness and stiffness, followed by the decreased
production of endorphins and increased pain sensitivity," Edwards tells
WebMD. "I think this is a true physical pattern that develops, and exercise
helps to preserve normal physiology."
In treating patients with chronic low-back pain, low-impact aerobics is
just as effective as physical therapy or a program of weight lifting and
After 3 months of therapy, patients in all three treatment groups reported
a significant reduction in pain.
Researchers say that exercise breaks the cycle of decreased activity that
leads to weakness, stiffness, and increased sensitivity to pain.