Objective: The aim of this study was to systematically review the evidence for the effectiveness of core stability exercises for treating athletes with low back pain (LBP).
Data sources: We searched several databases (Medline, AMED, CINAHL, SportDiscus, and EMBASE). Our eligibility criteria consisted of articles published in a peer-reviewed journal in English, using any prospective clinical study design, where athletes with nonspecific LBP were treated with core stability exercises in at least 1 study arm, and back pain intensity and/or disability were used as outcome measures. All included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were assessed for risk of bias using the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool, whereas non-RCT studies were assessed for quality using the Downs and Black checklist.
Main results: Five studies including 151 participants met the inclusion criteria, including 2 RCTs. The quality of the literature on this topic was deemed to be low overall, with only 1 non-RCT having a moderate quality score, and 1 RCT having a lower risk of bias. Four studies reported statistically significant decreases in back pain intensity in their core stability intervention group.
Conclusions: The quantity and quality of literature on the use of core stability exercises for treating LBP in athletes is low. The existing evidence has been conducted on small and heterogeneous study populations using interventions that vary drastically with only mixed results and short-term follow-up. This precludes the formulation of strong conclusions, and additional high quality research is clearly needed.