NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Exercises for specific muscles that stabilize the spine may help reduce the misery of chronic lower back pain, a research review suggests.

The review of 14 clinical trials found that “motor control exercises” were better than minimal therapy for lower back pain, and they brought extra relief when added to other therapies — such as standard physical therapy or general exercise.

Motor control exercise is a relatively new way of managing lower back pain. It focuses on teaching patients to control specific deeper muscles in the back and abdomen that move and support the spine.

Until now, there had been only limited evidence that the therapy was effective, according to the authors of the review, published in the journal Physical Therapy.

By pooling the results of the 14 studies, Dr. Luciana G. Macedo of The George Institute for International Health in Sidney, Australia, and associates found that motor control exercise helped ease lower back pain in the

short- and longer-term, and reduced the risk of patients’ having disability 1 year or longer after treatment.

Motor control exercises are not as simple as taking a walk or going to the gym, however. “People with persistent low back pain should see someone who is trained in this area and a physical therapist would be the best person to see,” Macedo explained.

It’s not entirely clear why the exercises are helpful for lower back pain, Macedo told Reuters Health. But there is evidence that in some people with persistent back trouble, specific muscles that help control the spine are not working properly, and motor control exercise may address that underlying issue.

“Exercise that focuses on the specific muscles seems to be the key,”

Macedo noted, “rather than general exercise such as walking.”

SOURCE: Physical Therapy, January 2009.