Research Spotlight: Could Exercise-Based Interventions Be the Answer to Preventing Occupational Low Back Pain?
A review of 28 published articles has determined which employer interventions are most effective at preventing LBP on the job.
Non-specific low back pain (LBP) continues to pose a significant public health risk in the United States and other industrialized countries, where lifetime prevalence is 60-70% and annual adult incidence is 5%. With 37% of global LBP cases believed to be work-related, recent studies have sought to measure the effectiveness of workplace interventions and prevention strategies, such as education (e.g., back schools), exercise, lumbar supports (e.g., back belts), lifting techniques, and training of employees – however, data have been difficult to sift through, until now.
In 2017, a team of researchers led by Dr. Daniel Sowah at the University of Alberta set out to synthesize this data in a systematic review. They looked at 28 eligible articles published between 1994 and 2016 evaluating the effectiveness of LBP interventions that could be implemented in the workplace. Sowah and his team categorized the interventions as primary or secondary prevention approaches. The outcome measures applied to primary interventions were incidence and prevalence of LBP, and recurrence of LBP was included for secondary prevention. The impact of LBP, disability and cost were also included as outcomes.
The study team found exercise alone or together with education was the only approach that was consistently effective in the prevention of LBP across the body of research, supporting the claim that exercise interventions can help prevent LBP and diminish its related disability and workplace impact, at least in the short term. Notably, education in combination with exercise was found to be more effective than education alone, bolstering the case for a multidimensional approach to LBP prevention in the workplace.
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Sowah, D., Boyko, R., Antle, D., Miller, L., Zakhary, M., & Straube, S. (2018). Occupational interventions for the prevention of back pain: Overview of systematic reviews. Journal of safety research, 66, 39-59.