Working at home? Protect your back with these exercises

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Working at home? Protect your back with these exercises

And their effect lasts three times longer than a typical muscle-strengthening exercise programme

Cape Town bureau chief
The static positions in Irina Kliziene's lower back stabilisation programme are to be held from six to 20 seconds, and each exercise should be repeated between eight and 16 times.
floor work The static positions in Irina Kliziene's lower back stabilisation programme are to be held from six to 20 seconds, and each exercise should be repeated between eight and 16 times.
Image: Kaunas University of Technology

Just in time for a lockdown that will leave millions of office workers hunched over their laptops at the dining room table for hours on end, scientists have come up what they claim to be the best set of exercises for managing lower back pain.

With a significant portion of the global population about to spend weeks working from makeshift home offices, Dr Irina Kliziene from Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania said lower back pain could be the next epidemic.

As luck would have it, Kliziene and her colleague, Saule Sipaviciene, have just published the results of research on 70 volunteers which found that a range of Pilates-based exercises that can be done at home are not only efficient in diminishing the non-specific lower back pain, but their effect lasts three times longer than a typical muscle-strengthening exercise programme.

“Positive effects ... lasted for four weeks after the application of the lumbar muscle-strengthening exercise programme and for 12 weeks after the application of lumbar stabilisation exercise programme,” they said in the journal Clinical Biomechanics.

“The lumbar muscle strength increased and lasted for eight weeks after both exercise programmes.”

Even before lockdown, said Liziene, lower back pain was reaching epidemic proportions. “Although it is usually clear what is causing the pain and its chronic nature, people tend to ignore these circumstances and are not willing to change their lifestyle,” she said.

“Lower back pain usually fades away by itself. However, the chances of the recurring pain are very high.”

The exercises are aimed at strengthening the muscles which support the spine at the lower back.
quite a stretch The exercises are aimed at strengthening the muscles which support the spine at the lower back.
Image: Kaunas University of Technology

Kliziene and colleagues designed a set of stabilisation exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles which support the spine in the lumbar (lower back) area.

The programme includes static and dynamic exercises. The static positions are held for between six and 20 seconds, and each exercise should be repeated between eight and 16 times.

Seventy female volunteers were randomly enrolled either to the lumbar stabilisation programme or to a typical muscle-strengthening programme. Both groups exercised twice a week for 45 minutes. Over the 20 weeks of the experiment, ultrasound scanning of the muscles was carried out.

Within four weeks, the multifidus muscle – one of the key lower back muscles – had grown in the stabilisation group, and after 20 weeks its growth was statistically significant. The same change was not observed in the strengthening group.

Although both sets of exercises eliminated lower back pain and strengthened the lumbar muscles, the effect of stabilisation exercises lasted 12 weeks – three times as long as the strengthening programme.

“There are only a handful of studies which have directly compared the efficiency of stabilisation exercises against other exercises in eliminating lower back pain,” said Kliziene.

“However, there are studies proving that after a year, lower back pain returned only to 30% of people who have completed a stabilisation exercise programme, and to 84% of people who haven’t taken these exercises. After three years these proportions are 35% and 75%.”

The World Health Organisation says lower back pain is among the top 10 diseases and injuries that are decreasing quality of life worldwide.

It estimates that non-specific lower back pain is experienced by 60% to 70% of people in industrialised societies. It is the leading cause of activity limitation and work absence throughout much of the world.

Chronic lower back pain, which starts from long-term irritation or nerve injury, also affects the emotions, fuelling anxiety, bad mood and depression.