Exercise in the management of chronic back pain

Ochsner J. 2014 Spring;14(1):101-7.


Background: Chronic back pain is one of the most common and expensive medical conditions facing today's population. Its costs are estimated to be as much as $100 billion in the United States alone. Causation is poorly understood and healthcare providers share little common language concerning this pain. In addition, costly medical diagnostic tests are performed that do little to inform treatment. In the era of evidence-based medicine, back pain healthcare providers must find better ways to communicate with one another.

Methods: The key to better communication is measurement within the context of an evidence-based, protocol-driven clinical rehabilitation model. Measurement is the key to better communication among providers treating spinal pain. Measurement means acquiring both patient-reported outcomes (PROs) and clinician-based outcomes (CBOs).

Results: Musculoskeletal strengthening of the lumbar and cervical extensors has been shown to significantly reduce pain and provide successful clinical results for patients suffering from chronic back and neck pain. Lumbar strengthening has been successful because it is a safe exercise, it is prescribed based on pretreatment evaluation, and it provides objective measurements.

Conclusion: Without measurement, clinical results rely more on opinion than on objectively prescribed courses of treatment. Although indirect measures (PROs) are typically presented in clinical papers and clinical reviews, they are not often used in normal physical therapy practices. Adding direct patient-performance measures (CBOs) creates a much clearer clinical picture. The key to understanding the value of clinical practice and its predictable impact on patient treatment is objective measurement.

Keywords: Back muscles; exercise therapy; muscle strength; outcome assessment (health care); resistance training.

Publication types

  • Review