Updated: May 16
As many of you may already know, low back pain is the most common condition that Americans visit their doctor for. An estimated 65 million Americans are suffering from low back pain at any given time, leading to almost 100 billion dollars of health care costs, missed days of work, and disability. There are many different reasons someone could be suffering from back pain, but the one thing that research has shown loud and clear is that being sedentary is the worst thing you can do for your recovery. In fact, there are many new studies showing that a 20-minute aerobic walking program can be just as effective for helping low back pain as a twice-per-week lower body and abdominal strengthening program.
Why is walking good for low back pain?
The general movement of the low back muscles and spine is one of the critical principles for treating low back pain. Brisk walking, with good form and gentle arm swings, can mitigate stiffness by stretching the ligaments and muscles of the back, legs, and lower legs. Lack of physical activity combined with too much sitting can lead to excessive stiffness of the spinal muscles, causing increased pressure and compression of the spine and low back. Walking can help to alleviate some of this stiffness and in turn, improve the range of motion of your spine.
With proper form, a regular walking program can also help improve the strength of your trunk and core muscles to better support your spine. These muscles can become weak and deconditioned due to a sedentary lifestyle and can lead to excessive fatigue, weakness, and pain with regular activities of daily living. A gradual walking progression will help to improve muscle endurance, core stability, and overall cardiovascular endurance.
Regular walking also has many other systemic benefits that can help decrease low back pain as a byproduct such as:
- Reducing or maintaining an optimal weight
- Keep healthy blood pressure under control
- Improve cholesterol levels
- Releases natural endorphins to reduce pain
- Reduces risk of heart disease and diabetes
Tips to prevent low back pain when walking
If you have not been walking very much each day, make sure to start off slow, with a 5–10-minute walk one to two times per day. If you are unable to walk without support, we recommend using two canes or walking sticks to reduce postural asymmetries. Another strategy to help mitigate pain is to walk more frequently, with shorter bouts instead of one long route. For example, it may help to walk 3 – 10-minute bouts as opposed to one long 30-minute jaunt.
If you are having back pain with short walks around the block, consider being evaluated by a Physical Therapist or movement specialist! They can help to screen your body to find areas of postural asymmetries based on what muscles are tight and/or weak and need to be worked on.