Is there any way to prevent low back pain? It’s a question almost everyone with chronic low back pain asks. And while there’s plenty of advice out there—from family, friends, and the internet—it’s not easy to know what actually works.
To find out what the research shows, a team led by experts from the University of Sydney analyzed data from 21 randomized clinical trials that tested a variety of ways to prevent low back pain. Together, the studies included more than 30,000 people. Some trials looked at exercise or back education (how to bend and lift safely, for example). Others examined products like back belts and shoe insoles. The results were published in a January issue of JAMA.
Only one approach seemed to help prevent recurring bouts of low back pain: exercise, either with or without back education. The review concluded that back support belts and shoe insoles didn’t offer measurable benefit. The evidence for ergonomic adjustments, such as specially designed chairs or desks, was found to be inconclusive.
The findings support growing evidence that staying active is one of the most effective ways not only to ease low back pain and prevent disability, but also to prevent recurrences.
Peter Jaret is the author of several health-related books, including “In Self-Defense: The Human Immune System” (Harcourt Brace), “Nurse: A World of Care” (Emory University Press), and “Impact: On the Frontlines of Public Health” (National Geographic). A frequent contributor to National Geographic, The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Health, More, AARP Bulletin, and dozens of other periodicals, Jaret is the recipient of an American Medical Association award for journalism and two James Beard awards. He lives in Petaluma, Calif.