Back Pain

Updated 01 March 2017

Exercises to boost spine muscles can ease back pain

A leading physiotherapist says that targeting the strength and coordination of muscles that support the spine offers an alternative approach to treating lower back pain.


An exercise programme meant to boost coordination of muscles that control and support the spine can help reduce lower back pain, a new study suggests.

Motor control exercise

This type of programme called motor control exercise begins with patients practicing normal use of these lower back muscles by doing simple tasks, usually with guidance from a therapist or expert.

The exercises gradually become more demanding and include activities that patients typically do during work or recreation.

Read: Yoga may ease chronic lower back pain

Researchers analysed data from 29 clinical trials that included more than 2,400 people, aged 22 to 55, with lower back pain.

The trials compared the effectiveness of motor control exercise with other types of exercise or with doing nothing.

Patients who did motor control exercise showed greater improvement, with less pain and disability, than those who did nothing.

Read: Exercise may reduce back pain

When comparing motor control exercise and other types of exercise after three to 12 months, similar improvements in the motor control group were seen.

The study was published in the Cochrane Library.

More research needed

"Targeting the strength and coordination of muscles that support the spine through motor control exercise offers an alternative approach to treating lower back pain," said lead author Bruno Saragiotto, a physiotherapist at the George Institute at the University of Sydney in Australia.

Read: 10 tips to avoid work related back pain

"We can be confident that they are as effective as other types of exercise, so the choice of exercise should take into account factors such as patient or therapist preferences, cost and availability," he said in a journal news release.

"At present, we don't really know how motor control exercise compares with other forms of exercise in the long term. It's important we see more research in this field so that patients can make more informed choices about persisting with treatment," he added. 

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Ask the Expert

Backache expert

Susan qualified as a Physiotherapist in 1990, and completed her master’s degree in Physiotherapy in 2013 at the University of Pretoria. She has a special interest in human biomechanics, as well as the interaction between domestic and work-related ergonomics.

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