Why Movement is the Key to Reducing Lower Back Pain

By Haley Bass | 10/27/2017

Lower back pain is the second leading cause of disability in the U.S., affecting 29% of adults and costing an estimated $90 billion a year. That cost doesn’t even include the $10-20 billion in lost productivity and missed work days related to back pain.

We have a problem, and our current solution isn’t working.

An employee suffering from lower back pain may be prescribed opioids or recommended surgery, but these passive and sometimes expensive treatments have short-term, lackluster results. Although insurance typically only covers these treatments, scientific research has found that moving is the most important thing you can do for back pain.

Why Passive Treatment Doesn’t Work

Some of the most commonly prescribed treatments for lower back pain include:

  • opioids
  • surgery
  • spinal fusion
  • spinal manipulation
  • steroid injections

All of them only offer slight or short-lived pain relief, if any at all. The research base for these treatment methods also tends to be weak, with very few optimistic results.

Opioids are prescribed to nearly 20% of patients suffering from back pain. Although the pain relief from opioids may only be slight, the effects can be disastrous. Opioid addiction continues to sweep the country, and more than 30,000 Americans are expected to die from opioid overdoses in 2017. In this case, there’s more potential harm than help in this treatment.

Medical societies and public health agencies are advising doctors to focus on alternative therapies, including more active treatment models.

Movement and Exercise Can Make a Difference

When studies compared chronic low back pain patients who engaged in exercise versus those who did not, results consistently showed better pain relief for those who exercised. Inactive patients even experienced a delay in recovery.

Medical research has shown that a combination of different exercises can not only reduce lower back pain, but also improve strength, flexibility, sleep patterns, and overall health. Increased muscle strength leads to better support for the spine, and improved flexibility helps people function more easily. Exercise also increases blood flow to the back’s soft tissues, promoting healing and reducing stiffness.

Research specifically found that lower back pain is reduced up to:

  • 58% with improved flexibility
  • 61.6% with increased muscular strength
  • 76% with core stabilization programs

While there’s no one specific exercise that cures lower back pain, physical therapists can sometimes work as “back whisperers,” able to observe how the patient functions and what triggers the back pain. Physical therapists can then prescribe an exercise regimen that addresses those triggers, blending strength training and flexibility to reduce pain with long-term effects.

Concentra has always seen the value of an active treatment model for all injury care, including lower back pain. Our physical therapists are trained to provide hands-on therapy that results in a faster, fuller recovery. If you have employees suffering from back pain, avoid the opioids and let Concentra provide a treatment plan that actually works. Connect with one of our work health experts to learn more.

Resource: Collected research by Vox Media