In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Aerobic Fitness and Chronic Low Back Pain

Women reaches for her toes to stretch

Millions of people suffer from chronic low back pain. Many of them tend to shy away from aerobic exercises because they fear their back will hurt more or that the exercises will be too difficult. The good news is that research supports the idea that aerobic fitness helps to alleviate some of the low back pain. In addition, a new study points to the fact that those who have chronic low back pain tend to compare with healthy individuals in aerobic fitness assessments.

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International Journal of Rehabilitation Research Study

Those who work with chronic low back pain patients may want to help advance their aerobic fitness levels. According to the new study, doing an aerobic fitness assessment in patients with chronic low back pain may be helpful to clinicians who are helping patients to progress in that area (1).

For the pilot study they conducted, researchers recruited 10 people with low back pain and 10 people without it. They had the participants do different aerobic fitness tests on a treadmill and measured their aerobic fitness level.

Data Collected For Aerobic Fitness Test

  • Oxygen consumption
  • Pain intensity
  • Rating of perceived exertion
  • Heart rate
  • Blood lactate concentration
  • Respiratory quotient

Study Results

Researchers found that both groups had similar results when it came to their heart rate, but the group that had chronic low back pain had a higher body mass index (BMI) when compared to the healthy group.

The only area where they found a significant difference was the respiratory quotient. Researchers found those with chronic low back pain were able to do and tolerate an aerobic fitness test, and there were no significant differences between the two groups of people.

Aerobic Exercise Meta Analysis

Research outcomes on the efficacy of aerobic exercise for the treatment of chronic low back pain was shared in the May 2015 issue of the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (2).

Researchers had conducted a meta-analysis of studies to investigate the efficacy of aerobic exercise for treating patients who have chronic low back pain. They concluded that there is reliable evidence that aerobic exercise can help ease chronic pain, as well as help to improve the physical and psychological functioning of such patients.

Understanding that aerobic activity could help those with chronic low back pain and actually completing the exercises are two different things. It’s important that people know the benefits and add physical activity to their pain treatment plan.

Earn an Online Postgraduate Degree in Pain Medicine

Like what you’re learning? Consider enrolling in the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s online, competency-based certificate or master’s program in Pain Medicine in partnership with the Keck School of Medicine of USC.


  1. International Journal of Rehabilitation Research. Assessment of aerobic fitness in individuals with and without nonspecific chronic low back pain: a pilot study. October 2020.
  2. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Efficacy of aerobic exercise for treatment of chronic low back pain: a meta-analysis. May 2015.
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Posted: March 16, 2021
<a href="" target="_self">Dr. Steven H. Richeimer</a>

Dr. Steven H. Richeimer

Steven Richeimer, M.D. is a renowned specialist on issues related to chronic pain. He is the chief of the Division of Pain Medicine at the University of Southern California. He has written or co-written a large number of scientific articles about pain medicine. He recently published an instructive book and guide for pain patients. Dr. Richeimer has given numerous lectures to medical and lay audiences throughout the U.S.

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