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Review supports motor control exercises for back pain

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Exercise to improve skill and co-ordination can help reduce lower back pain, according to review of available research on the subject.

A Cochrane Review, published today, concluded that targeting exercises to muscles that support and control the spine offers a strategy to reduce pain and disability caused by lower back pain.

Motor control exercise is a popular form of exercise that aims to improve coordination of the muscles that control and support the spine, noted the authors of the review.

It involves patients initially being guided by a therapist to practise normal use of the muscles with simple tasks.

As their skill increases, the exercises become more complex and include the functional tasks that the person needs to perform during work or leisure.

The Cochrane review analysed data from 29 trials involving 2,431 men and women, aged from 22 to 55.

The trials investigated the impact of using motor control exercises as a treatment for lower back pain, compared with other forms of exercise or doing nothing.

“We can be confident that they are as effective as other types of exercise”

Bruno Saragiotto

The reviewers found patients who used motor control exercises experienced improvements, especially in pain and disability compared with minimal intervention.

When compared with other types of exercise at intervals between three and 12 months, motor control exercise provided similar results for pain and disability.

Lead study author Bruno Saragiotto, a physiotherapist from the University of Sydney in Australia, said: “Targeting the strength and coordination of muscles that support the spine through motor control exercise offers an alternative approach to treating lower back pain.

“We can be confident that they are as effective as other types of exercise, so the choice of exercise should take into account factors such as patient or therapist preferences, cost and availability,” he said.

“At present, we don’t really know how motor control exercise compares with other forms of exercise in the long term. It’s important we see more research in this field,” he added. 

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