Can strength training combat chronic back pain?
This week’s Jockology column takes a look at some rather surprising research from the University of Alberta on back pain and lifting weights:
My lower back is killing me. What can I do about it at the gym?
It’s the classic moving-day injury: You’re hoisting a dresser or grabbing one end of a sofa, then – bam! – you throw out your back.
So it may come as a surprise to hear that a promising solution for chronic lower-back pain, according to a series of recent studies from the University of Alberta, is lifting weights. A whole-body strengthening program dramatically outperforms aerobic exercise for those whose nagging back pain lingers for many months, the researchers say. And the more you lift, the better. [read on…]
There’s always a risk in reporting on research like this that it will get taken out of context. I should emphasize here this research applies to chronic (i.e. not immediately after you throw your back out) and non-specific (i.e. not related to a specific disc or muscle problem) back pain. And it’s not advocated strengthening the lower back itself — it’s strengthening other areas of the body, like the arms and legs, to take some load off the back.
For that matter, even that diagnosis remains controversial:
This one-size-fits-all approach has limitations, though, according to Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo .
“There’s actually no such thing as non-specific back pain,” he says. “It just means you haven’t had an adequate assessment.”
Still, the results of the studies are interesting — and very much worth thinking about, in my opinion. They’re just not for everybody with back pain.