Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Friday, July 30, 1999 Published at 00:57 GMT 01:57 UK


Exercise beats back pain

Researchers say exercise can help build confidence

Taking exercise could be the key to getting over severe lower back pain, researchers have found.

Their study showed patients who followed an eight-class programme of exercise experienced significant benefits compared to those who underwent standard treatment.

Many people who suffer back pain fear activity will lead to greater damage.

But the researchers say the exercise programme's success was so great it should be more widely available.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has responded to the findings by calling on the government to adopt back pain as one of its key areas for improving public health.

Such programmes have been shown to be beneficial to hospital inpatients before, but the researchers, based at Hull University's Institute of Rehabilitation, wanted to see if it was effective in a community setting.

Guinea pigs

They looked at 187 18- to 60-year-olds living in the York area who had suffered lower back problems for between four weeks and six months.

A year on from the therapy, patients who had attended the exercise classes suffered less pain and were better able to control the condition than those who had not.

The classes consisted of:

  • A gentle warm up involving stretching and low impact aerobics
  • Strengthening exercises for all the muscles in the body
  • Relaxation exercises
  • An educational "tip for the day", such as advising people not to worry if they feel some pain when they try a new activity, as this is not unusual - the trick is to start easy and build up slowly
Dr Jennifer Klaber-Moffett, a senior lecturer at the institute, led the study.

She told BBC News Online: "The programme allows participants to build up confidence.

"None of the exercises focus on the back, but they all use it."

'Should be key health target'

The CSP responded to the report, published in the British Medical Journal, by calling on the government to make back pain a fifth key public health target.

At the moment, the government's priority areas, set out in the Our Healthier Nation White Paper, cancer, heart disease, accidents and suicides.

But the CSP's chief executive Phil Gray said back pain accounts for 11 million missed working days each year and merits greater attention.

He says: "This research demonstrates the effectiveness of this low cost approach to tackling the back pain epidemic."

Dr Klaber-Moffett agreed the government was missing an obvious public health target.

"It's a great pity the Healthier Nation targets didn't focus more on quality of life," she said.

'What about quality of life?'

"It's fine lengthening people's lives but what about the quality? Rehabilitation and helping people to improve their function and generally be more active and lead a more fulfilling life should be a much higher priority."

She said an important part of that was getting people to get back to work, as back pain accounted for millions of lost working days each year.

Health professionals may sometimes be overcautious in telling people to take it easy, fearing they may eat up doing more damage, she said.

"We have to help people distinguish between hurt and harm, so you can do activity that may hurt but without damaging yourself."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

06 Jul 99 | Health
Public health White Paper in depth

30 Jun 99 | Health
Back pain torments millions

07 May 99 | Health
The complex world of pain

11 Feb 99 | Health
Genetic link to back pain

29 Jul 98 | Health
Back pain prostrates women

Internet Links

National Back Pain Association

British Medical Journal

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99