Lower back pain is perhaps the most wide-spread health affliction in western cultures. 81 million Americans report experiencing lower back pain at some point in their lives, and lower back pain is the second most common reason for visiting a medical doctor.
All this pain racks up a $50 billion dollar medical bill every year, but the frustrating part is that most back pain conditions are labeled non-specific lower back pain, meaning it’s generalized pain with no precise cause.
Generally, lower back pain sufferers receive prescriptions for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (pain killers) and the suggestion of light activity until the back pain goes away. Acute cases are treated with surgery.
What Else Can You Do for Back Pain Relief?
It’s no secret that pain killers merely mask the symptoms of back pain instead of addressing the root cause. They mask the pain, your body’s signal that something is out of alignment. Clearly, something’s not right or your body wouldn’t be in pain.
It could be the way you walk, it could be the new training protocol, there are many factors affecting lower back pain, from obesity to sitting in front of a computer or training at extremely high levels for sports; even smoking has a correlated risk factor for lower back pain.
In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, two groups of chronic non-specific lower back pain sufferers were assigned either aerobic training or periodized resistance training for sixteen weeks. Periodization is a method of cycling training to build muscular strength, speed and endurance.
While both groups saw a reduction in body fat, the resistance training group measured a 27% increase in muscular strength and a 63% reduction in lower back pain!
Why Does Resistance Training Work for Lower Back Pain?
Resistance training has shown very little in the way of results in previous lower back pain studies, so what was different about this resistance training protocol?
The difference was the periodization and whole-body approach. In most studies, participants focus on strengthening their “core,” the muscles of the abdomen and lower back. While these are indeed important postural muscles, they may not be the ones at fault in lower back pain.
For example, weak leg strength may cause you to rely heavily on your arms and torso to lift boxes and move furniture. Thus, excess strain is placed on your lower back, resulting in pain. The solution to this problem is not to strengthen your back but rather your legs.
Your muscles do not function in isolation. Every muscle that flexes affects another part of your body; therefore, it’s not helpful to train your muscles in isolation. This kind of training – bicep curls and calf raises and the like – is born of the bodybuilding culture where perfectly toned muscles win big competitions. Unfortunately, those muscles don’t help get you out of pain, so if you want lower back pain relief, train like an athlete instead of a bodybuilder – focus on function.