Lower back pain is not a new phenomenon – it is the cause of more than 100 million workdays lost per year in the UK. It is highly probable that the complaint has become even more widespread as a result of COVID-19 – the new virus that has spread across the world. Lower back pain is not a direct result of the virus but a consequence of the lockdown measure implemented in response.
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For millions across the UK, their home environment has now doubled up as their workplace.
Deprived of the optimal working conditions that employers take pains to create, increasing levels of lower back pain seems all but inevitable.
“Lower back pain is reaching epidemic proportions. Although it is usually clear what is causing the pain and its chronic nature, people tend to ignore these circumstances and are not willing to change their lifestyle. Lower back pain usually comes away itself, however, the chances of the recurring pain are very high,” said Dr Irina Kliziene, a researcher at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Faculty of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts.
Dr Kliziene, together with colleagues from KTU and from Lithuanian Sports University, were keen to address this newly presented problem.
They designed a set of stabilisation exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles which support the spine at the lower back, also known as the lumbar region.
The exercise programme is based on Pilates methodology.
According to Dr Kliziene, the stability of lumbar segments is an essential element of body biomechanics.
Previous research evidence shows that in order to avoid the lower back pain it is crucial to strengthen the deep muscles, which are stabilising the lumbar area of the spine – one of these muscles is multifidus muscle.
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“Human central nervous system is using several strategies, such as preparing for keeping the posture, preliminary adjustment to the posture, correcting the mistakes of the posture, which need to be rectified by specific stabilising exercises. Our aim was to design a set of exercises for this purpose,” explained Dr Kliziene.
The programme, designed by Dr Kliziene and her colleagues, consists of static and dynamic exercises, which train muscle strength and endurance.
The static positions are to be held from six to 20 seconds; each exercise to be repeated eight to 16 times.
Putting it to the test
In order to check the efficiency of the programme, 70 female volunteers were randomly enrolled either to the lumbar stabilisation exercise programme or to a usual muscle strengthening exercise programme.
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Both groups were exercising twice a week for 45 minutes for 20 weeks. During the experiment, ultrasound scanning of the muscles was carried out.
As soon as four weeks into the lumbar stabilisation programme, it was observed that the cross-section area of the multifidus muscle of the subjects of the stabilisation group had increased.
After completing the programme, this increase was statistically significant – this change was not observed in the strengthening group.
Moreover, although both sets of exercises were efficient in eliminating lower back pain and strengthening the muscles of the lower back area, the effect of stabilisation exercises lasted three times longer – 12 weeks after the completion of the stabilisation programme against four weeks after the completion of the muscle strengthening programme.
In her concluding remarks, Dr Kliziene said: “There are only a handful of studies, which have directly compared the efficiency of stabilisation exercises against other exercises in eliminating lower back pain.
“However, there are studies proving that after a year, lower back pain returned only to 30 percent of people who have completed a stabilisation exercise programme, and to 84 percent of people who haven’t taken these exercises. After three years these proportions are 35 percent and 75 percent.”
For short-term relief, apply a hot or cold compression pack to your lower back, says the NHS.
“You can buy these from a pharmacy, or a hot water bottle or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth or towel will work just as well,” the health body explains.
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