What is it about?

Low back pain and neck-shoulder region pain are related to the loading one's spine confronts daily. Physical activity which includes work, household, and sport activities can both increase and decrease the pain symptoms. Yet, in long term, moderate level of leisure-time physical activity has seemed to prevent chronic pain conditions. We wanted to investigate whether participation in several sport activities rather than only in one sport activity could reduce low back pain and neck-shoulder region pain. We found that adults who participated in five or more sport activities had less weekly low back pain but no less neck-shoulder region pain.

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Why is it important?

Low back and neck-shoulder region pain are some of the most common musculoskeletal pain symptoms leading to doctor consultations, sick leaves, and even early retirements, which makes them burdening problems for societies and many individuals. Physical activity is one of the most important ways to prevent and treat these pain conditions. It has been difficult to define how much and what kind of physical activity one should do: no physical activity at all is related to more pain but also too much physical activity can cause pain and even lead to overuse injuries. Yet, participation in several sport activities could increase the possibility to reach the adequate level of physical activity to decrease the risk of pain symptoms. In addition, diversity, i.e. participation in several different sport activities, may also provide a wider range of movements and improve motor control, which may lead to adaptations in muscles and spine that prevent stress and acute injuries.

Perspectives

I hope this article encourages to consider that the benefits of physical activity are not related only on the frequency, duration, intensity or type of the activity. Especially, in the case of low back pain, the combination of different daily activities and overall loading of the spine matters the most. Our spines are made to move but not always in the same way. The World Health Organization also recommends to involve in diverse physical activities: both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities should be participated on a weekly basis.

Sara Kaartinen
Helsingin Yliopisto

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This page is a summary of: Is diversity of leisure-time sport activities associated with low back and neck–shoulder region pain? A Finnish twin cohort study, Preventive Medicine Reports, September 2019, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100933.
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