Study design: A randomized, controlled trial, test--retest design, with a 3-, 6-, and 30-month postal questionnaire follow-up.
Objective: To determine the efficacy of a specific exercise intervention in the treatment of patients with chronic low back pain and a radiologic diagnosis of spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis.
Summary of background data: A recent focus in the physiotherapy management of patients with back pain has been the specific training of muscles surrounding the spine (deep abdominal muscles and lumbar multifidus), considered to provide dynamic stability and fine control to the lumbar spine. In no study have researchers evaluated the efficacy of this intervention in a population with chronic low back pain where the anatomic stability of the spine was compromised.
Methods: Forty-four patients with this condition were assigned randomly to two treatment groups. The first group underwent a 10-week specific exercise treatment program involving the specific training of the deep abdominal muscles, with co-activation of the lumbar multifidus proximal to the pars defects. The activation of these muscles was incorporated into previously aggravating static postures and functional tasks. The control group underwent treatment as directed by their treating practitioner.
Results: After intervention, the specific exercise group showed a statistically significant reduction in pain intensity and functional disability levels, which was maintained at a 30-month follow-up. The control group showed no significant change in these parameters after intervention or at follow-up.
Summary: A "specific exercise" treatment approach appears more effective than other commonly prescribed conservative treatment programs in patients with chronically symptomatic spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis.