Exercise the Back, Roman Style
Exercise has proven over and over to work for low back pain. It decreases symptoms, increases strength and endurance, and improves mental and emotional outlook. Researchers are rolling up their sleeves to find out exactly what exercise works and what doesn't.

High-tech exercise equipment can increase strength and improve symptoms. However, this equipment is expensive, and it isn't always easy to use. Exercises without equipment or with low-tech equipment also improve back muscle endurance. The down side is that patients who are in very poor shape or just out of surgery may not be able to do these safely.

A new piece of equipment has been developed to offer a safe, low-tech way to strengthen the back. It's called a variable-angle Roman chair (VARC). The person stands on a small platform with the stomach and waist supported. The chest and back can move forward to a bent and seated position or be extended at different angles to an upright position.

The VARC can be set to exercise the back muscles through a full range of motion. Different handholds along with different chair angles are used to increase the level of resistance. For example, the least resistance occurs in a nearly standing position with the hands behind the back. The most resistance is given while going from a seated position to standing with the hands behind the head.

Healthy volunteers used the VARC three times a week for eight weeks. They did one set of 15 to 25 repetitions of back extension exercises. At the end of the training, there was an increase in endurance of the back muscles. No increase in strength was measured. This is just the start of some very important studies. Finding easy-to-use and inexpensive back strengthening equipment is the goal.
Joe L. Verna, DC, et al. Back Extension Endurance and Strength: The Effect of Variable-Angle Roman Chair Exercise Training. In Spine. August 15, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 16. Pp. 1772-1777.