European Spine Journal

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 464–474 | Cite as

The relationship between physical activity and low back pain outcomes: a systematic review of observational studies

  • Paul Hendrick
  • S. Milosavljevic
  • L. Hale
  • D. A. Hurley
  • S. McDonough
  • B. Ryan
  • G. D. Baxter
Review Article


Although clinical guidelines advocate exercise and activity in the management of non-specific low back pain (NSLBP), the link between levels of physical activity and outcomes is unclear. This systematic review investigated the relationships between free living activity levels after onset of low back pain (LBP) and measures of pain, and disability in patients with NSLBP. Cohort and cross-sectional studies were located using OVID, CINAHL, Medline, AMED, Embase, Biomed, PubMed-National Library of Medicine, Proquest and Cochrane Databases, and hand searches of reference lists. Studies were included if a statistical relationship was investigated between measures of free living physical activity (PA) in subjects with LBP and LBP outcome measures. Twelve studies (seven cohort and five cross-sectional) were included. One prospective study reported a statistically significant relationship between increased leisure time activity and improved LBP outcomes, and one cross-sectional study found that lower levels of sporting activity were associated with higher levels of pain and disability. All other studies (n = 10) found no relationship between measures of activity levels and either pain or disability. Heterogeneity of study designs, particularly in terms of activity measurement, made comparisons between studies difficult. These data suggest that the activity levels of patients with NSLBP are neither associated with, nor predictive of, disability or pain levels. Validated activity measurement in prospective research is required to better evaluate the relationships between PA and LBP.


Physical activity Low back pain Systematic review Outcomes Guidelines 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Hendrick
    • 1
  • S. Milosavljevic
    • 1
  • L. Hale
    • 1
  • D. A. Hurley
    • 2
  • S. McDonough
    • 3
  • B. Ryan
    • 1
  • G. D. Baxter
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Physiotherapy Research, School of PhysiotherapyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, College of Life SciencesUniversity College DublinDublinIreland
  3. 3.Health and Rehabilitation Research InstituteUniversity of UlsterUlsterUK

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