Back in action
Educational program lowers incidence of back pain in soldiers
By Jill Pease
A program of core strengthening exercises was no better than traditional sit-ups for preventing back pain in soldiers, according to a new 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 results of the study appear online in BMC Medicine, an open-access journal of BioMed Central.
“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 Steven George, Ph.D., P.T., 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 Lt. Col. John Childs, Ph.D., P.T., director of musculoskeletal research at Keesler Air Force Base.
“Musculoskeletal pain, and especially low back pain, adversely affects military preparedness as common reasons for medical evacuation from ongoing conflicts, with return to duty being uncertain,” said Childs, also an associate professor at the U.S. Army-Baylor University doctoral program in physical therapy at the Army Medical Department Center and School in San Antonio.
The Prevention of Low Back Pain in the Military, or POLM, study involved 4,325 U.S. Army soldiers stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Participants were randomized by company into one of four treatment groups of exercises alone, or exercises paired with educational sessions.
“Part of the education is just to get people to understand the difference between when pain indicates true injury, which is usually only in the very early stages, and when pain is just a lingering signal, but you can still be active,” George said. “We need to get people moving even when they’re in pain because if we wait until they’re pain-free they can become out of shape.”