Exercise for the primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of low back pain: A systematic review

Document Type

Journal Article


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science / Centre for Exercise and Sports Science Research




Bell, J., & Burnett, A. F. (2009). Exercise for the primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of low back pain: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 19(1), 8-24. Available here


Introduction Low back pain (LBP) is one of the most costly conditions to manage in occupational health. Individuals with chronic or recurring LBP experience difficulties returning to work due to disability. Given the personal and financial cost of LBP, there is a need for effective interventions aimed at preventing LBP in the workplace. The aim of this systematic review was to examine the effectiveness of exercises in decreasing LBP incidence, LBP intensity and the impact of LBP and disability. Methods A comprehensive literature search of controlled trials published between 1978 and 2007 was conducted and a total of 15 studies were subsequently reviewed and analyzed. Results There was strong evidence that exercise was effective in reducing the severity and activity interference from LBP. However, due to the poor methodological quality of studies and conflicting results, there was only limited evidence supporting the use of exercise to prevent LBP episodes in the workplace. Other methodological limitations such as differing combinations of exercise, study populations, participant presentation, workloads and outcome measures; levels of exercise adherence and a lack of reporting on effect sizes, adverse effects, and types of sub-groups, make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions on the efficacy of workplace exercise in preventing LBP. Conclusions Only two out of the 15 studies reviewed were high in methodological quality and showed significant reductions in LBP intensity with exercise. Future research is needed to clarify which exercises are effective and the dose-response relationships regarding exercise and outcomes.





Link to publisher version (DOI)