Core-strengthening exercises did not prevent back pain in soldiers any better than traditional sit-ups, according to a study conducted by the University of Florida.

However, the study found that combining both core-strengthening exercises and sit-ups with a brief educational session on back pain strategies did lower the incidence of soldiers being treated for back pain. The results of the study appear in BMC Medicine, a journal of BioMed Central.

The Prevention of Low Back Pain in the Military study involved 4,325 soldiers with no previous records of low back pain who were stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. The participants were randomized by company into one of four treatment groups: core stabilization exercises, core stabilization exercises plus an educational session on back pain coping strategies, traditional lumbar exercises or traditional lumbar exercises plus the back pain educational session.

The exercise programs were completed as a group under drill instructor supervision once a day, five days a week for 12 weeks. The educational program involved one 45-minute group session that provided evidence-based information on low back pain and strategies for recovering from mild back injury.

The soldiers’ incidence of low back pain was tracked for two years after the intervention using a military health care utilization database. The soldiers who were in the exercise-only groups had no difference in health care visits for back pain. In the groups who also received the educational program, the number of participants seeking health care for low back pain decreased by 3 percent.

According to the study’s authors, the decrease may seem small, but because back pain is such a common health issue in the military, even a small decrease in the number of soldiers affected by back pain could lessen the burden on the health care system.

Low back pain is a frequent cause of medical visits and time off for soldiers.

“Core stabilization exercises are considered to be a more balanced approach to lumbar training, so that’s why we and others have thought that core exercises would be better at preventing back pain—and that may be—but it just wasn’t the case in this study,” Steven George, the lead investigator of the study, said in a statement in the Air Force Print News today.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program of the Office of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.