The Use of Breathing Exercises in the Treatment of Chronic, Nonspecific Low Back Pain

J Sport Rehabil. 2017 Sep;26(5):452-458. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2015-0199. Epub 2016 Aug 24.


Clinical Scenario: Research has shown a link between poor core stability and chronic, nonspecific low back pain, with data to suggest that alterations in core muscle activation patterns, breathing patterns, lung function, and diaphragm mechanics may occur. Traditional treatment approaches for chronic, nonspecific low back pain focus on exercise and manual therapy interventions, however it is not clear whether breathing exercises are effective in treating back pain. Focused Clinical Question: In adults with chronic, nonspecific low back pain, are breathing exercises effective in reducing pain, improving respiratory function, and/or health related quality of life? Summary of Key Findings: Following a literature search, 3 studies were identified for inclusion in the review. All reviewed studies were critically appraised at level 2 evidence and reported improvements in either low back pain or quality of life following breathing program intervention. Clinical Bottom Line: Exercise programs were shown to be effective in improving lung function, reducing back pain, and improving quality of life. Breathing program frequencies ranged from daily to 2-3 times per week, with durations ranging from 4 to 8 weeks. Based on these results, athletic trainers and physical therapists caring for patients with chronic, nonspecific low back pain should consider the inclusion of breathing exercises for the treatment of back pain when such treatments align with the clinician's own judgment and clinical expertise and the patient's preferences and values. Strength of Recommendation: Grade B evidence exists to support the use of breathing exercises in the treatment of chronic, nonspecific low back pain.

Keywords: core stability; diaphragm; quality of life; rehabilitation.

MeSH terms

  • Breathing Exercises*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic