According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, back problems accounted for 139 million doctor visits in the United States in 2005 and cost $17.6 billion. With such a prevalence of back pain, it’s more than likely that fitness professionals will come across those suffering from the condition. But research suggests back pain relief may come in the form of strength training.

The authors of a study published
online ahead of print in The Journal
of Strength and Conditioning Research
(February 7, 2009) set out to determine the best method for low-back-pain rehabilitation. The 27 subjects with back pain were divided evenly into three groups: resistance training, cardiovascular training and a nonexercise control. During the 16-week study, the resistance training group performed exercises using dumbbells, barbells and other equipment. (The types of exercises performed were not made clear in the study report.) The cardiovascular group used either a treadmill or an elliptical machine.

At the end of the study, the resistance training group decreased body fat percentage and “improved most musculoskeletal fitness, pain, disability and quality of life outcomes.” The cardiovascular group made improvements in body composition as well as flexibility and cardiovascular output, but no progress was made with regard to back pain.

“The primary finding was that periodized resistance training was successful at improving many fitness, pain, disability, and quality of life outcome measures, whereas [cardiovascular training] was not,” stated the authors. “This study indicates that whole-body periodized resistance training can be used by training and conditioning personnel in the rehabilitation of those clients suffering with chronic nonspecific low-back pain.”

To learn more about exercise and low-back pain, look for the following resources at

  • “Help for Low-Back Pain,” by Catherine Fiscella, MSPT, September 2005 IDEA Fitness Journal.
  • “Yoga for Chronic Pain,” by Kelly McGonigal, PhD, June 2006 IDEA Fitness Journal.
  • “Back in Action: Contributing Factors and Corrective Exercises for Low-Back Pain,” by Eric Beard, MS. DVD from 2008 IDEA Fitness Fusion Conference.