The effect of high-intensity resistance exercise on lumbar musculature in patients with low back pain: a preliminary study

Berry DB, Padwal J, Johnson S, Englund EK, Ward SR, Shahidi B.
BMC Musculoskelet Disord, 2019 20(1):290.


BACKGROUND: Muscle atrophy and fatty infiltration of the lumbar extensors is associated with LBP. Exercise-based rehabilitation targets strengthening these muscles, but few studies show consistent changes in muscle quality with standard-of-care rehabilitation. The goal of this study was to assess the effect of high-intensity resistance exercise on lumbar extensor muscle size (cross sectional area) and quality (fat fraction) in individuals with low back pain (LBP).
METHODS: Fourteen patients with LBP were recruited from a local rehabilitation clinic. Patients underwent MRI scanning before and after a standardized 10-week high-intensity machine-based, resistance exercise program. Patient pain, disability, anxiety/depression, satisfaction, strength, and range of motion was compared pre- and post-rehabilitation using analysis of covariance (covariates: age, gender). Exercise-induced changes in MRI, and patient functional outcome measures were correlated using Pearson's correlation test.
RESULTS: No significant differences were found in muscle size or fatty infiltration of the lumbar extensors over the course of rehabilitation (p > 0.31). However, patients reported reduced pain (p = 0.002) and were stronger (p = 0.03) at the conclusion of the program. Improvements in muscle size and quality for both multifidus and erector spinae correlated with improvements in disability, anxiety/depression, and strength.
CONCLUSION: While average muscle size and fatty infiltration levels did not change with high-intensity exercise, the results suggest that a subgroup of patients who demonstrate improvements in muscle health demonstrate the largest functional improvements. Future research is needed to identify which patients are most likely to respond to this type of treatment.

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