Comparison of a high-intensity and a low-intensity lumbar extensor training program as minimal intervention treatment in low back pain: a randomized trial


In a randomized, observer-blinded trial, the effectiveness of 3-month high-intensity training (HIT) of the isolated lumbar extensors was compared to low-intensity training (LIT). Eighty-one workers with nonspecific low back pain longer than 12 weeks were randomly assigned to either of the two training programs.

Training sessions were performed on a modified training device that isolated the lower back extensors. Total intervention time was limited to 5–10 min (one or two training sessions) per week. Training effects were assessed in terms of changes in self-rated degree of back complaints, functional disability, and general, physical and mental health. Secondary outcomes in this study were muscle strength and fear of moving the back (kinesiophobia). Outcomes were evaluated at 1,2, 3, 6, and 9 months after randomization.

The results showed that the two treatment programs led to comparable improvements in all outcome measures, except for mean isometric strength at 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 months and kinesiophobia score at 2 and 9 months of follow-up. The high-intensity training group showed a higher strength gain (24 to 48 Nm) but a smaller decline in kinesiophobia (2.5 and 3.4 points, respectively), compared to the low-intensity training group.

It can be concluded that high-intensity training of the isolated back extensors was not superior to a non-progressive, low-intensity variant in restoring back function in nonspecific (chronic) low back pain. In further research, emphasis should be put on identifying subgroups of patients that will have the highest success rate with either of these training approaches.

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Helmhout, P.H., Harts, C.C., Staal, J.B. et al. Comparison of a high-intensity and a low-intensity lumbar extensor training program as minimal intervention treatment in low back pain: a randomized trial. Eur Spine J 13, 537–547 (2004).

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  • Low back pain
  • Randomized trial
  • Lumbar extension strength
  • Training device
  • Functional disability