Strength Training for Low Back Pain in Older Adults

By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, OCS, FAAOMPT

To follow up on my blog post from June regarding the importance of strength training, I’ve got another recent research review coming ‘atcha! A group of physical therapists in Spain performed a systematic review- a high quality approach to review multiple research studies- specifically looking at the effectiveness of resistance training programs to help treat older adults (60+) with chronic low back pain.1 Their search results yielded eight high quality research studies that were analyzed to describe the main characteristics of the strength programs used, so that us clinicians can glean the information in order to help us design more effective resistance exercise programs to help our patients over the age of 60 with low back pain that may be affecting their quality of life.1

Ellen taking her shot at perfecting bench press technique


Nathan laying down the knowledge on tips and tricks for the bench press


Me, working on perfecting my form with Nathan’s guidance

Ultimately, the researchers found that there were a variety of methods used in the strength programs across each of these research studies, but that they all had a positive impact on the patients’ pain, disability, and quality of life.1 The researchers also discuss the reasons why progressive strength programs work: by improving your brain’s ability to connect to the muscles in your body, bone mineral density, muscle function, physical strength, and functional capacity.1 Furthermore, research indicates that strength training programs also help older adults with chronic low back pain see improvements in coordination, balance, and flexibility.1

The three fundamental aspects of strength training programs that was found during this research review include:1

  • Global training of the whole body with emphasis on the large muscle groups
  • Using a traditional periodized program which utilizes the concept of alternating load plans in successive workouts (such as performing 8-10 rep maxes during one workout and 12-15 rep maxes on the next)
  • A gradual increase in volume and intensity initially and further increases in intensity later on in the program

Ultimately, this systematic review provided a big vote for the inclusion of resistance training to help with the treatment of chronic low back pain in adults aged 60 and over.1 A physical therapist will help not only create a program for you but more importantly guide you through proper technique and progression within the context of your individual body’s needs in order to move toward the end result of decreased pain, improved function, and improved quality of life. If you’ve been dealing with chronic back pain and are ready to do something about it, don’t hesitate to reach out to our clinic to schedule an initial evaluation so we can guide you through an individualized plan to help you achieve your goals.

1. Fritz N, Gene-Morales J, Saez-Berlanga A, et al. Resistance training for chronic low back pain in the elderly: a systematic review. J Human Sport and Exercise. 2021;16(3proc):S1492-S1506.