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Can Core Exercises Really Prevent or Cure Back Pain?

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Can Core Exercises Really Prevent or Cure Back Pain?

Core training or core stabilization exercises are very popular right now. Many people do these exercises after a back injury or for back pain. Others do them in hopes of preventing a back problem. Do they work? Who should do them?

In this report, two doctors from the University of Washington (Seattle) review the research. They offer an opinion on this topic. A summary of the original studies that led to the development of core stabilization is also included. Using data from current studies, they try to answer the following questions:

  • Do core stabilization exercises work for low back pain?
  • What's the best frequency, intensity, and duration for these
    exercises? In other words, how often, how many, and what kind of exercise should be done?
  • What muscles are involved?
  • Can core exercises prevent low back injury?

    There is no simple answer to each of these questions. Studies have been done to support the use of core exercises. Other research shows they may help but aren't any better than other exercise programs. Studies are small and often don't use the same measure of results. These factors make it difficult to rely on the outcomes for our answers.

    It is equally difficult to define how often, how many, and what kind of training is needed. The various studies used a wide range of exercise dose. For example, programs ranged from four to 12 weeks in duration. And there's no way to know how much each patient needs for the maximum benefit.

    And there are many people prescribing these exercises. Doctors, physiotherapists, athletic trainers, and fitness specialists all provide core training. The programs offered vary greatly.

    The authors conclude that using one specific type of exercise for everyone with back pain may not be the best idea. Encouraging exercise in general is still advised. Core training may be best for some patients with specific needs. But we still don't know who needs what and for how long or at what intensity.

    Christopher J. Standaert, MD, and Stanley A. Herring, MD. Expert Opinion and Controversies in Musculoskeletal and Sports Medicine: Core Stabilization as a Treatment for Low Back Pain. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. December 2007. Vol. 88. No. 12. Pp. 1734-1736.

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