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Back Pain? Total Body Approach May Spell Relief

According to a new study published online ahead of the January 2009 print issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, total body weight training may be the key to reducing chronic lower back pain.

For the study, 27 men and women between the ages of 35 and 40 years old were split into three groups.  All of the participants had been experiencing chronic lower back pain for an average of 28 months.

The first group followed a resistance training program that included dumbbells, barbells and load-bearing exercise equipment.  The second group underwent an aerobic program that included jogging, walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine.  The third group did no exercise and acted as the control.

Researchers from the University of Alberta and University of Regina - both in Canada - compared measurements of pain severity, muscle strength, body mass and body fat before and after the 16 week training period.

At the conclusion of the study period, participants in the resistance training group reported a 60% improvement in pain and functioning.  By contrast, the aerobic group only experienced a 12% improvement.

In addition to improvement in lower back pain, the resistance group also experienced improved muscle strength, endurance and flexibility.  They also lost an average of 15% of their body fat over the course of the study.

While the aerobic group did experience a significant loss of body fat and body mass, they did not appear to have a significant reduction in back pain.

According to the researchers, these results are likely due to the "total body" approach used in resistance training.  Given that aerobic activities generally focus only on the lower body, strengthening the entire body could be the key to reducing lower back pain.

In addition to weight training, there are several other steps you can take to alleviate lower back pain.  A study published earlier this year in the British Medical Journal showed that a 100 year old therapy called the Alexander technique may be effective in reducing back pain.  Other research has shown that yoga and Pilates may also be of benefit.
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