Exercise best for low back pain; TENS units not far behind

TENS units such as the TENS 7000 are one of, if not the best way to relieve low back pain, but researchers have found that exercise is a perfectly comparable method of preventing repeated lower back pain in the year following an episode. A review of 21 studies involving more than 30,000 subjects – published in JAMA Internal Medicine – found that any kind of exercise (core strengthening, aerobic exercise, or flexibility and stretching) decreased the risk of a new episode of low back pain between 25% and 40%. Lower back pain is “a universal experience. You'd be a really uncommon person never to have had an episode of back pain,” physical therapist, health researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia, and lead researchers Chris Maher said. “It's a common problem across the whole of the globe," he says, whether it's North America, sub-Saharan Africa or rural India.”

Day and even years may pass between episodes of acute low back pain, but the risk is there all right. Unfortunately, physicians seldom prescribe exercise, according to internist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill Tim Carey, who wrote an accompanying editorial. “If there were a pill out there that could reduce your risk of future episodes of back pain by 30 percent, I'd probably be seeing ads on television every night,” he remarked. However, “Prescribing ineffective treatments for patients may actually distract them and give them a false sense of security away from treatments that are actually beneficial.” He furthers asks rhetorically, “Why are we not prescribing an inexpensive, effective treatment?” And the answer is that “some of it is, I think, we don't think of exercise as being a treatment the way a tablet or a procedure or a physical therapy treatment might. We're a fairly pill-oriented society. Pills are easy to take, and as a doctor, pills are easy to prescribe”

The majority of reviewed studies involved a relatively small sample of participants, which did not allow reaching definitive conclusions on the effect of exercise. “That's a problem, because physical activity can be incredibly cheap to provide to patients, whereas a lot of these drugs that are being developed are incredibly expensive,” Maher said. Moreover, “We've got this perverse incentive in our health care system where we encourage people to innovate in terms of drugs, but we don't have the same system to get people to innovate in terms of physical activity.” According to some estimates, the U.S. has spent about $80 billion dollars in a given year on spine problems that include low back pain, plus money lost on treatments, imaging, surgery, pain medicines and the loss of productivity due to missed work days. “When you start packaging it all up, the costs around the world are horrendous in terms of how much low-back pain costs, and that's why prevention is so important,” Maher said.

Thankfully TENS units are very effective and affordable at Discount Medical Supplies, as are fitness supplies – just in case you are interested in both approaches. The research also discussed other options such as ergonomic chairs, shoe inserts and Velcro back belts, ultrasound, and traction treatments. Many of these medical supplies online are also available at DMS.

Related: Tens Units aid for Lower Back Pain