Individuals with NSLBP often report that the pain is worst during or after extended periods of inactivity, such as in the morning, when traveling long distances, or when sitting for an increased amount of time. Additionally, when experiencing a particularly painful stint of LBP, individuals are often inclined to do one of two things which can cause more harm than good: rest completely or try to stretch the pain away. Contrary to this commonplace thought, research has shown that aerobic exercise as well as resistance training can reduce pain intensity and strengthen structures of the back that are potentially responsible for NSLBP.
For example, the intervertebral discs (referenced above) are fluid filled, which is important for their function of shock absorption. Dehydration (or desiccation) of these intervertebral discs occurs naturally with aging and causes the discs to become less flexible and less sturdy. One group of researchers found that long-distance runners demonstrated better hydration and higher glycosaminoglycan (structural component of the intervertebral discs) levels in their intervertebral discs compared to non-athletic individuals.
Furthermore, there were signs of hypertrophy (enlargement) of the intervertebral discs in the long-distance runners. While running has been shown to be beneficial spine health, it should be noted that, for the average individual, high volume and high intensity running may not beneficial nor recommended to promote health of the intervertebral discs.
Alternatively, resistance training has shown promising results for reducing pain and increasing muscle strength in individuals suffering from NSLBP. In strength-based training, the concept of periodization refers to a variation in the training volume, intensity, and exercises by breaking the year into time periods with a specific focus (e.g., hypertrophy, strength, flexibility). In a study evaluating the influence of periodized resistance training on males with NSLBP, a group of researchers divided individuals into three age groups. The program was a periodized, 4 day per week design with exercises targeting the upper-body, lower-body, and core area.
The researchers ultimately found significant differences in strength over time for the groups undergoing resistance training, whereas the control group showed no such significant change in strength across time. Furthermore, during testing at weeks 8 and 12, it was found that resistance training groups showed significant improvements in pain, disability, and quality of life measures as compared to the control group. The results of this study suggest that periodized resistance training may serve as an effective rehabilitation method for individuals suffering from NSLBP. It should be noted, however, that the individuals in the study were trained and familiarized with the resistance exercises before beginning the study. As such, it is strongly recommended that an individual interested in pursuing strength training consult with a healthcare expert prior to beginning.