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1 to 2 minutes exercise can reduce back pain

20th June 2016
Sport and fitnessHealth and exercise scienceSport science and performance

By taking part in just 1-2 minutes of exercise a week, you could reduce lower back pain and significantly increase your muscle strength, according to Solent researchers. We spoke to Dr James Steele, lecturer in applied sport science and leader of the research study, to find out more.

What is it you have been researching?

A lot of our previous work has shown that people with lower back pain typically have very weak muscles in their lower back. We’ve been looking at a specific way of strengthening those muscles by using a unique device to perform some exercises that are very brief, low volume and low frequency but with high intensity of effort to strengthen the lower back muscles.

A demonstration of the specialist equipment.

How can 1-2 minutes of exercise help those suffering with lower back pain?

We focused on strengthening the muscles that extend and support the lower back as these are often weak in people with low back pain.

Our research has shown that brief yet high intensity of effort exercise is best for increasing strength and it seems that it is also very effective in reducing people’s perceptions of pain.

These reduced perceptions are probably a result of both strengthening the muscles, increasing people’s confidence and addressing some of the cognitive aspects of pain.

What sort of exercises should they do, and how often?

Our work looked at exercise to strengthen the muscles of the lower back with our participants training just once a week but to a high intensity of effort – meaning they used a weight that they could perform repetitions with for around 1-2 minutes before they couldn’t continue.

In the exercise science world it’s what we call momentary failure as it refers to the point where your muscles fail to continue performing the exercise. Some people don’t like the phrase but we often say “…sometimes you have to fail in order to succeed.”

How specialised are these exercises?

We used a specialised device, which allows the lower back muscles to be isolated and trained, as we’ve found these provide the best results.

Unfortunately at this point in time access to the equipment is few and far between, although we hope our results will make others more aware of the benefit, meaning more gyms and clinics will buy them.

Would you recommend this over other types of exercise?

In terms of effectiveness for low back pain the isolated exercise appears to work best, but that’s not to say people won’t get benefit from performing other exercises for the lower back using a similar brief yet high effort approach.

However, people should make sure to maintain their form during the exercises to avoid injury, so working with a clinician or trainer would be best.

What are your top tips for alleviating lower back pain?

If I had to offer a top tip it’s to keep your back strong and practice moving well. We often sustain injury because loads we experience are more than our muscles can handle or because our movement patterns are poor. Once we get injured we can often make the pain worse.

So another tip would be to try and think about reassessing your beliefs around your pain and realise that you can still be active and exercise and that it will help with the problem.