In a recent post I argued that there exists very little scientific evidence to justify the ubiquitous recommendation that core strengthening is a good way to prevent and/or cure low back pain. In fact, there is significant evidence that core work is no better than general exercise for these purposes. Some recent studies have provided even more support for this point of view. In the July 2010 issue of Physical Therapy, a paper by Unsgaard-Tøndel discussed a study where a hundred participants with back pain worked for eight weeks with physical therapists. One group did core strengthening, another did core coordination, and another just did general exercise. Each group had the same results immediately and one year after treatment.
In another study widely reported in the media, 1,100 soldiers were divided into two groups during training – one did specific forms of core training exercises, and the other did plain old- fashioned sit ups. Again there were no differences between the two groups in terms of pain and injury. Although some people will point out that sit ups are in fact a core training exercise, this study helps dispel the commonly held idea that core strength exercise must be done in a particular manner in order to be effective, such as making sure to draw in the abs, or brace the abs, or whatever.
These papers provide further clues that we should stop looking for pain in terms of poor body mechanics. Instead, a better target would be the nervous system, which processes and controls pain. Here are some posts on how that process works and what can be done with that information.
Thanks to Paul for pointing out the new studies.