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Exercise is the best medicine for managing back pain

12 November 2019
Exercise more effective than painkillers for back pain
Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira spoke to ABC Life about the best evidence-based approaches for back pain in those who have demanding jobs.

Low back pain is the leading contributor to disability in Australia and globally, and nearly 4 million Australians suffer from low back pain at any one time, with the total cost of treatment exceeding $9 billion annually.

It is well recognised that although over one third of patients with an acute episode of low back pain will recover in the first nine months, for many, low back pain will reoccur.

In fact, 1 in 5 people who recover from an acute episode of low back pain will seek care for a new episode within 12 months. So what helps? Exercise, says Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira.

"The most valid piece of evidence we have to prevent lower back pain is exercise. That's probably the only intervention based on science"
Professor Ferreira

The best news is it doesn't matter what type of exercise you choose, most types can be beneficial to prevent back pain.

"When we talk about exercise, we don't seem to have one form of exercise that is significantly better than others. Any kind of exercise is good to prevent lower back pain, as long as it is something that people are comfortable doing and will adhere to. You don't want to do something you are going to quit in a couple of weeks."

And what about looking after your back when you work a demanding job? Here are Professor Ferreira's tips:

  • If you are doing work that requires bending over or puts your body in an awkward position, take regular breaks. Even a short walk can help reduce some of the strain on your back.
  • Stress can be a factor in back pain, so it can help to have an activity or routine that can help you relax. (He's not talking about alcohol either.)
The content of this article was originally published on ABC Life: Have a physically demanding job? Look after your body as you get older

Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira

Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira

Associate Professor, Physiotherapy

Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira is a physiotherapist with a Masters degree in Sports Rehabilitation and a PhD in Physiotherapy. Paulo's research interests are in the management of low back pain, spinal biomechanics and evidence based practice.