Which is better for low back pain: working out with weights or doing cardio exercise?

Low back pain is America’s No. 1 nonfatal health problem.

Training with weights is superior to aerobic exercise for the relief of back pain, says a study from the University of Alberta.

In the study, people participated in a 16-week exercise regimen using barbells, dumbbells and other strength training equipment.

Other subjects did aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging or using an elliptical machine.

Strength Training Wins Over Cardio at Reducing Back Pain

The strength training group experienced a 60 percent improvement with their low back pain situation, whereas the aerobic exercise group experienced only a 12 percent improvement.

  • Cardio training works only the lower body.
  • Strength training (depending on the specific exercise) works the whole body as an integrated unit.

The low back, in a sense, connects the lower body with the upper body.

By engaging both the top and lower part of the body in weight-bearing exercise, the patient with low back pain will see great improvements.

Strength training forces the low back to get stronger and become better at resisting fatigue.

Strength Training Exercises for Low Back Pain

“The biggest initiator of low back pain symptoms is postural malalignment,” says Melissa Franckowiak, MD, an anesthesiologist in Lockport, NY.

“Over time, it can lead to more severe anatomical problems like herniated discs, pinched nerves and facet joint arthritis.

“Muscle imbalance can be corrected with the correct core strengthening exercises, that you can then carry into your cardiac workouts for maximal endurance muscle strengthening.

“Without strengthening exercises, performing a lot of cardiac activity can exacerbate low back pain if it’s performed with the same postural imbalances that exist with the same day to day poor posture.

“Mini crunches that include small twisting motions (elbow toward the opposite knee) to work the internal and external obliques as well as the rectus abdominus through straight crunches provide core strengthening.

“Do a variety of mini crunches for 20 minutes twice a week. Vary the resistance with arm position. These are small movements. The low back never leaves the floor. Pause at the peak of the contractions.”

Crunches. Credit: George Stepanek

Additional Strength Training Exercises for Those with Chronic Low Back Pain

Bent-over dumbbell row. Start lightly and do eight to 12 reps.

Credit: George Stepanek

Lat pull-down. Keep your upper arms vertical at all times as you start with light weight. Tilt back only slightly. Do not let the bar fly back up. Though this exercise does not engage the lower body, it’s a great one for the back.

Feel free to continue doing cardio for heart health, as long as it doesn’t aggravate your back pain.

If you use a treadmill, do not hold on other than for momentary balance checks.

Otherwise, holding on will skewer natural gait mechanics — which is bad for the back.

The study is reported in a 2009 issue of Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

Dr. Franckowiak is the inventor of two patented medical devices and the CEO of Pneumaglide, providing airway solutions to the surgical services and emergency medical services communities. A fiction writer under the name of Melissa Crickard, she is the author of “The Labrador Response” and “Another Five Patients,” available on Amazon.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: ©Lorra Garrick
Source: sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081211141848.htm