Does Physical Activity Help Heal Low-Back Pain?

Most health-care providers recommend that their patients with low-back pain remain active, and there is often encouragement to return to work and exercise as soon as possible. But does physical activity really prevent low back pain from becoming disabling?

A new study has sought whether or not a patient's level of physical activity affects recovery of acute low-back pain.

The research included over 100 participants and followed them for three months. Their level of physical activity was analyzed, as well as the effect on their level of disability or recovery in a three-month follow-up.

Surprisingly, the study results showed that physical activity did not have a significant role in low-back pain recovery. The authors of the study did not conclude that this means that physical activity has no role in helping patients with back pain. Rather, they wrote about the small sample size and the short time frame. They also noted that many participants were moderately active and still going to work at the beginning of the study, so the comparison at three months was not dramatic.

Additionally, the study's use of self-reporting questionnaires allowed the participants to define terms such as "normal activity." What is considered "normal" can vary greatly among people with low-back pain. The study authors suggested that a patient's perceived activity levels may be more important to recovery than the actual level of activity.

While more research is warranted to better our understanding of the connection between physical activity and low-back pain recovery, chiropractors and other health-care professionals will likely encourage low-back pain patients to remain active. After all, this research does not tell us that physical activity is harmful for recovery. And previous studies have found exercise to be beneficial in the long-term and in some populations, such as pregnant women and teens.


Hendrick P, Milosavlejevic S, et al. Does a patient's physical activity predict recovery from an episode of acute low back pain? A prospective cohort study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013; 14: 126. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-126.