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How Strength Training Can Help Reduce Back Pain

July 25th, 2023 by
Category: Back pain Exercise Sport

Man loading plates onto empty barbell in gym

Back pain is a prevalent issue in Australia, and understanding the common causes is essential for prevention and management. One of the primary causes is poor ergonomics and prolonged sitting. According to a study conducted by the University of Sydney, prolonged sitting and improper workplace ergonomics were associated with an increased risk of developing low back pain (Dunstan et al., 2012). Another significant contributor is manual handling tasks, particularly in industries such as construction and healthcare. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that manual handling activities were responsible for a significant proportion of work-related back injuries (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020). Moreover, sports and recreational activities can also lead to back injuries. Research by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that sports-related injuries, including those affecting the back, accounted for a substantial number of hospitalizations in Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2019). 

What are the benefits of strength training?

Strength training, also known as resistance training or weightlifting, offers a wide range of benefits for individuals of all ages and fitness levels. Some of the key benefits include: 

  1. Increased muscle strength and endurance: Strength training helps to build and strengthen muscles, leading to improved strength and endurance. A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that resistance training significantly increased muscle strength in adults aged 50 years and older (Fiatarone Singh et al., 2002).

  2. Enhanced bone health: Regular strength training can help increase bone mineral density, which is crucial for preventing osteoporosis and reducing the risk of fractures. A review published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport highlighted that resistance training is effective in improving bone mineral density in postmenopausal women (Kelley et al., 2001).

  3. Improved body composition: Strength training can help to decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass. A study conducted by the University of New South Wales found that resistance training, in combination with aerobic exercise, led to significant reductions in body fat and increased muscle mass in overweight and obese adults (Sui et al., 2012).

  4. Increased metabolism and weight management: Strength training can boost metabolism, leading to increased calorie burning even at rest. Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicated that strength training, in combination with aerobic exercise, is effective for weight loss and prevention of weight regain (Willis et al., 2012).

  5. Improved cardiovascular health: While aerobic exercise is commonly recommended for cardiovascular health, strength training also offers cardiovascular benefits. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that resistance training was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality (Stamatakis et al., 2017).

  6. Enhanced mental well-being: Strength training has been shown to have positive effects on mental health, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that resistance training resulted in significant reductions in depressive symptoms in older adults (Singh et al., 2005).

How can strength training reduce back pain?

Strength training is a highly effective strategy for reducing back pain and promoting overall spinal health. When performed correctly and under proper guidance, strength training can address the underlying causes of back pain and provide long-term relief. Here’s how strength training can help alleviate back pain:

Firstly, strength training improves muscle strength and stability. Weak muscles, particularly in the core and back, can contribute to poor posture and increased stress on the spine. By engaging in strength training exercises that target these muscle groups, such as deadlifts, planks, and back extensions, individuals can strengthen the supporting muscles and improve overall spinal stability (Hides et al., 2001).

Secondly, strength training increases core muscle activation. The core muscles, including the deep stabilizing muscles, play a crucial role in supporting the spine and maintaining proper alignment. Research has shown that strength training exercises, such as the bird dog and abdominal crunches, activate these core muscles more effectively than traditional sit-ups or crunches (Marshall & Murphy, 2005). Strengthening the core can help distribute the load more evenly across the spine, reducing strain and minimizing the risk of back pain.

Furthermore, strength training enhances spinal stability. The muscles surrounding the spine, including the erector spinae and multifidus muscles, are responsible for providing stability and control during movement. Weakness or imbalance in these muscles can lead to abnormal spinal movements and increase the risk of back pain. A study conducted by Hides et al. (2001) demonstrated that targeted strength training exercises significantly improved spinal stability in individuals with chronic low back pain.

In addition, strength training promotes better posture and alignment. Poor posture, such as slouching or hunching forward, can put excessive stress on the spine and contribute to back pain. Strength training exercises that focus on the back and shoulder muscles, such as rows and shoulder presses, can help improve posture by strengthening the muscles responsible for maintaining upright alignment (McGill et al., 1999).

Lastly, strength training improves flexibility and range of motion. Tight muscles and limited range of motion can lead to increased stress on the spine and contribute to back pain. Incorporating stretching exercises into a strength training routine can help improve flexibility, reduce muscle imbalances, and alleviate strain on the back.

Overall, strength training provides a comprehensive approach to reducing back pain by addressing muscle weakness, improving stability, enhancing posture, and increasing flexibility. It is important to consult with a qualified fitness professional or healthcare provider to develop a safe and tailored strength training program that suits individual needs and abilities.

Dos & don’ts for strength training with back pain

When engaging in strength training with back pain, it is crucial to exercise caution and follow certain dos and don’ts to prevent further injury and promote healing. Here are some guidelines to consider:

Do:

  1. Consult with a healthcare professional: Before starting any strength training program, consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified exercise specialist who can assess your condition and provide appropriate recommendations.

  2. Focus on proper form and technique: Ensure you are using proper form and technique during strength training exercises. This includes maintaining a neutral spine, using controlled movements, and avoiding excessive strain or twisting of the back.

  3. Start with low intensity and progress gradually: Begin with lighter weights or resistance and gradually increase as your pain and strength levels improve. Over time, you can gradually progress to more challenging exercises and weights.

  4. Engage in exercises that target core stability: Strengthening the core muscles can provide support to the spine. Focus on exercises like planks, bird dogs, and bridges that target the abdominal, back, and pelvic muscles.

  5. Incorporate a variety of exercises: Include exercises that target different muscle groups and movements to promote overall strength and balance. This can help prevent muscle imbalances and reduce the risk of further back pain.

Don’t:

  1. Avoid high-impact exercises: Steer clear of high-impact exercises that can put excessive stress on the spine, such as jumping or activities with a high risk of jarring movements.

  2. Avoid heavy lifting: Refrain from lifting heavy weights or performing exercises that require excessive strain on the back, especially if you are experiencing acute back pain or have a pre-existing condition.

  3. Avoid exercises that aggravate pain: If an exercise or movement causes increased pain or discomfort in your back, stop immediately and modify or eliminate that exercise from your routine.

  4. Don’t rush the healing process: Respect your body’s limitations and avoid pushing through pain. Allow yourself enough rest and recovery time to promote healing.

  5. Don’t neglect flexibility and mobility exercises: Incorporate stretching and mobility exercises into your routine to improve flexibility and range of motion, which can help alleviate back pain and prevent stiffness.

Remember, these dos and don’ts provide general guidelines, but it is essential to work with a healthcare professional or qualified exercise specialist who can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific condition and needs.

References:

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2020). Work-related injuries, Australia, Jul 2017 to Jun 2018. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/work-related-injuries-australia/latest-release

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Hospitalised sports injury, Australia, 2016-17. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/hospitalised-sports-injury-australia-2016-17/contents/table-of-contents

Dunstan, D. W., Howard, B., Healy, G. N., & Owen, N. (2012). Too much sitting—A health hazard. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 97(3), 368-376.

Fiatarone Singh, M. A., et al. (2002). The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 5(1), 32-40.

Hides, J., Richardson, C., & Jull, G. (2001). Multifidus muscle recovery is not automatic after resolution of acute, first-episode low back pain. Spine, 26(7), 815-821.

Kelley, G. A., et al. (2001). The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 4(3), 261-272.

Marshall, P. W., & Murphy, B. A. (2005). Core stability exercises on and off a Swiss ball. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 15(6), 576-586.

McGill, S. M., Grenier, S., Kavcic, N., & Cholewicki, J. (1999). Coordination of muscle activity to assure stability of the lumbar spine. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31(6), 907-911.

Sui, X., et al. (2012). Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44(12), 2297-2306.

Willis, L. H., et al. (2012). British Journal of Sports Medicine, 46(10), 737-745.

Stamatakis, E., et al. (2017). Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 69(19), 2511-2523.

Singh, N. A., et al. (2005). Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 13(2), 198-216.

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