Patients with chronic low back pain can learn new, practical, and less painful ways to move through individualized motor skills training (MST), according to a study published in JAMA Neurology. The 2-year study of nearly 150 patients found that MST appears to better relieve disability from lower back pain than a more common but lesstailored exercise regimen broadly focused on improving strength and flexibility. With no accepted standard of care for chronic lower back pain, nor a clear sense of what type of exercise intervention might work best, the researchers randomized patients aged 18-60 with non-specific lower back pain for at least 1 year to strength and flexibility treatment for the trunk and lower limbs or MST that was meant to teach patients new ways to carry out everyday tasks rendered difficult by back pain. Both groups received 6 weeks of training for 1 hour per week. Half of each group also received three “booster” treatment sessions 6 months later. Disability questionnaires were completed at baseline, 6 months, and 1 year. While both groups’ ability to perform daily functions without pain improved, the MST group achieved significantly better gains during the study period. MST patients were more satisfied with their care and less likely to use drugs for back pain. They were also less fearful of addressing work-related needs and less likely to avoid normal daily activities. MST patients had fewer acute back pain flare-ups and were more likely to keep up with exercises at 6 months and had less severe flare-ups at 1 year.

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