Have you ever been home, laid up with back pain and thought to yourself, “You know what would really make me feel good right now? Rock climbing!”. Yeah, me neither. The common sense in most of us would conclude that sports and activities, such as rock climbing, would only contribute to the problem. However, new research out of Germany is flying in the face of these commonly held beliefs.
In 2011, a research paper published in Spine from the University of Munich evaluated whether therapeutic wall climbing could reduce symptoms in patients with chronic low back pain. The focus was on people experiencing low back pain for at least 6 months without symptoms into the legs. Twenty eight patients were recruited for the study, with half in the therapeutic climbing group and half in the standard exercise regimen. Patients participated in a 4 week course of guided therapy with 45 minute guided training sessions 4 times per week.
After 4 weeks, the results demonstrated that both groups significantly improved in regards to pain and function. In the therapeutic climbing group, there were significant improvements in the patient’s perceived physical function and general health compared to the standard exercise group. Moreover, patients were noted for greater compliance with walk climbing exercise versus the standard exercise group.
Therapeutic climbing has become increasingly popular in use as a method of approaching physical therapy, especially in Europe. Previously, there has been positive research demonstrating the effects it can have on improving muscle strength. Interestingly, therapeutic climbing has also been suggested to help with psychological management of pain. The idea being that when people are given a goal-oriented task in physical therapy, they shift focus towards body movement and physical activity, rather than concentrating on the pain itself. Patients that can achieve this tend to better in the long run.
So, does this mean you should be getting your crimp-ons, a harness set and going out to find a rock face tomorrow? Of course not. But the overall message is clear: exercise helps back pain. Whether it be swimming, stationary bike, going to the gym or even therapeutic climbing, people who are more active feel better. Just find a program that keeps your interest so you can stick with it for the long haul. Lastly remember, while this research demonstrates how therapeutic climbing can help back pain, each patient is different. Always consult a physician who specializes in back pain prior to starting therapy or other exercise programs to help determining the reason for your pain and provide guidance for managing it.