Back pain is one of the most common chronic conditions suffered by people in the UK and around eight in ten people will suffer from some form of back pain during their lifetime. Even if it never becomes serious enough to leave you bed-bound, chronic back pain is a heavy burden to live with, so any measure that reduces the risk is worth taking. Especially if that measure is exercise, because there’s really no downside to being a bit more active.
Regular exercise and stretching has long been recommended as a method of preventing chronic back pain from developing, and a new analysis of research has shown that the effect of exercise can be considerable.
A review of 36 studies on a total of 158,475 people published in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine found that being moderately active reduced the risk of developing chronic back pain by 14%, while being highly active reduced it by 16%.
Any kind of sport or intentional exercise, as well as walking and climbing stairs, were counted as physical activity in the study. To be considered as active people had to exercise at least once or twice a week for 30 to 60 minutes or more.
While the research showed that exercise could cut the risk of chronic back pain, it did find that it had no effect on short-term back issues or severe pain that causes hospitalisation or disability. Chronic pain was defined as lasting for three months or longer, or pain felt on 30 days or more during the previous 12 months.
Low-impact exercises like walking and swimming are good starting points if you’re planning on getting active to avoid back pain, along with yoga and Pilates, which can increase your flexibility and mobility. If you are especially wary of back pain it might be worth avoiding sports that involve a lot of twisting like tennis or golf.
Fixing your posture can also help prevent back pain developing. If you’re someone who slouches at a desk all day check out our guide to perfect posture, which might save you a lot of grief in the future.