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Role of physical exercise in low back pain rehabilitation: a randomized controlled trial of a three-month exercise program in patients who have completed multidisciplinary rehabilitation.
STUDY DESIGN: Randomized controlled trial with 1-year follow-up. OBJECTIVE: To analyze the effects of an exercise program or routine follow-up on patients with chronic low back pain who have completed functional multidisciplinary rehabilitation. The short- and long-term outcome in terms of symptoms and physical and social functioning was compared. SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: Systematic reviews have shown that functional multidisciplinary rehabilitation improves physical function and reduces pain in patients with chronic low back pain. However, long-term maintenance of these improvements is inconsistent and the role of exercise in achieving this goal is unclear. METHODS: One hundred five chronic patients with low back pain who had completed a 3-week functional multidisciplinary rehabilitation program were randomized to either a 3-month exercise program (n = 56) or routine follow-up (n = 49). The exercise program consisted of 24 training sessions during 12 weeks. Patients underwent evaluations of trunk muscle endurance, cardiovascular endurance, lumbar spine mobility (flexion and extension range-of-motion, fingertip-to-floor distance), pain and perceived functional ability at the beginning and the end of functional multidisciplinary rehabilitation, at the end of the exercise program (3 months) and at 1-year follow-up. Disability was also assessed at the same time points except at the beginning of functional multidisciplinary rehabilitation. RESULTS: At the end of the functional multidisciplinary rehabilitation, both groups improved significantly in all physical parameters except flexion and extension range-of-motion. At the 3 month and 1 year follow-up, both groups maintained improvements in all parameters except for cardiovascular endurance. Only the exercise program group improved in disability score and trunk muscle endurance. No differences between groups were found. CONCLUSION: A favorable long-term outcome was observed after functional multidisciplinary rehabilitation in both patient groups. Patients who participated in an exercise program obtained some additional benefits. The relevance of these benefits to overall health status need to be further investigated.
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