A program of core strengthening exercises was no better than traditional sit-ups for preventing back pain in soldiers, according to a new University of Florida (UF) study. But combining both exercise programs with a brief educational session on back pain strategies did lower the incidence of treatment for back pain.
The Prevention of Low Back Pain in the Military study involved 4,325 US Army soldiers stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas who were completing a program for combat medic training. Participants were randomized by company into 1 of 4 treatment groups of exercises alone, or exercises paired with educational sessions. The exercise programs were completed as a group under the supervision of a drill instructor once a day, 5 days a week for 12 weeks. The education program consisted of 1 45-minute group session led by study personnel that provided information on low back pain and strategies for recovering from mild back injury.
The researchers tracked participants' incidence of low back pain for 2 years following the intervention. There was no difference in health care visits for back pain in the treatment groups that received exercises only, but among the groups that also received the education program, there was a 3% decrease in seeking health care for low back pain. The decrease may seem small, researchers say, but because back pain is such a common health issue in the military, even a small decrease could lessen the burden on the health care system.
"It was our hypothesis that the core stabilization exercises would have some protective effect for back pain and maybe the combination of the core stabilization exercises and the education program would be the most effective, but as it turns out, adding the education to either of the exercise programs was the only place where we saw the benefit," said lead investigator and APTA member Steven George, PT, PhD, an associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions' department of physical therapy.
Low back pain is among the most frequent causes of medical visits and lost-duty time in the military health system, said co-investigator and APTA member Lt Col John Childs, PT, PhD, director of musculoskeletal research at Keesler Air Force Base and associate professor at the US Army-Baylor University doctoral program in physical therapy at the Army Medical Department Center and School in San Antonio.
APTA members Lt Col Deydre Teyhen, PT, PhD, OCS, and Jessica Dugan, PT, coauthored the study.