A study published in the American Journal of Public Health (2005; 95(10): 1817-24), looked at 681 subjects with low back pain. The researchers found that recreation involving physical activity, like participating in sports, had a positive effect on back pain. The more a subject participated in sports, the less likely it was to have back pain. Specific back exercises actually did not perform as well as general physical activity.
An article appearing in the journal Spine (1995;20(5):615-619) discusses exercise, mobility and manipulation as it pertains to back pain. Bed rest or curtailing activity is not considered to be an important aspect of treating back pain. On the contrary, physical therapy and exercise is a much more effective treatment modality for getting the back pain patient to recover and go back to work. The article cites one study where 90% of the patients with back pain responded to vigorous exercise, and 92% were able to return to work. Four of the six patients who did not respond were found to have spinal stenosis.