Study design: A 5-year prospective cohort study was conducted of men and women seeking care for a new period of low back pain (LBP).
Objectives: To study the natural course of pain and disability due to LBP during a 5-year follow-up period, and to investigate the possible influence of regular physical exercise on recovery.
Summary of background data: LBP is major health problem, but its natural course is not very well studied. Several studies have investigated the role of physical exercise on LBP disorders, with inconsistent results.
Methods: At baseline, a total of 790 subjects seeking care for LBP were interviewed about physical exercise during leisure time. Over 5 years, 3 follow-up assessments were made by postal questionnaire. At all measuring points, pain intensity ratings and disability scores were compared between men and women, and among 3 exercise categories.
Results: The pain intensity and disability scores were improved after 5 years for both men and women. The most prominent improvements occurred after 6 months, but less so thereafter. There were no significant differences between men and women with regard to individual changes at the 5-year follow-up concerning the pain intensity or disability scores. There were no significant differences, either for women or men, between low, median, or high intensity exercise groups regarding pain intensity or disability values for the individual change at the 5-year follow-up.
Conclusions: Over a 5-year period, both men and women who had sought care for LBP reported a decrease in pain and disability; however, only a few were fully restored. In this study, we found no effect of nonspecific physical exercise on recovery from LBP in men and women.