Is walking good for lower back pain?
Walking is good for lower back pain as it helps to strengthen muscles, improve mobility and increase flexibility. Walking on a regular basis can also be as helpful as other forms of exercise, such as muscle-strengthening activities, in managing lower back pain.
Benefits of walking for lower back pain
When it comes to dealing with lower back pain, walking has been found to be as beneficial as clinic-based interventions.
In one study, participants with lower back pain completed either traditional muscle-strengthening activities for six weeks to address their symptoms (such as those a physio may prescribe) whilst the other half did regular walking. After this period, the researchers assessed the likes of mobility, pain and endurance, all of which had improved with regular walking. In fact, the participants who took on regular walking were even able to increase the duration of their weekly walks as their fitness improved during the course of the study. (1)
Other studies have found similar results, highlighting that walking can be used as a means to improve pain and mobility because of its accessibility for people with musculoskeletal problems. (2)
How does walking help lower back pain?
Regular walking can be helpful in managing the likes of joint, muscle and back pain. This is because it is a muscle-strengthening activity that helps to sustain and improve both flexibility and mobility. It also gets us away from phones, computers and television screens which can cause us to hunch over and, in the long term, may worsen or contribute to back pain.
Walking is also a low-impact activity so it isn't likely to put the body under too much pressure which we may see with other higher impact sports and movements.
On top of this, stress can exacerbate muscle and joint pain, including in the back. Walking is helpful here as it is very stress-relieving. It releases endorphins, for example, and brings exposure to nature which is itself very calming.
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How much should you walk with lower back pain?
If you want to do some more walking to help your lower back pain, aim to build up the distance gradually. For example, if you haven't been used to doing a lot of walking, ten minutes a few times a week is a good place to start. After a few weeks, you may find that you can increase the duration to twenty or even thirty minutes.
If you are already active, swap one of your weekly activities for a walk to reap the benefits.
How do I stop my lower back from hurting when I walk?
To stop your back from hurting during a walk, there are a few things to focus on:
- Posture – keep your shoulders relaxed and your back straight whilst walking.
- Look ahead – avoid looking towards the ground as this causes the back to hunch over. Keep focused on what's ahead instead.
- Supportive shoes – make sure you are wearing comfortable, supportive shoes when walking. Avoid the likes of flip-flops and slip-on shoes and wear lace-ups ones instead.
- Avoid a heavy backpack – a heavy backpack will put additional strain on the back muscles. Choose a light backpack and fill it only with essentials when out on a walk. A 'bum bag' is also a good idea!
- Avoid an uneven weight on the back – an over-the-shoulder handbag, for example, can cause an uneven distribution of weight on the back which may cause you to hold your body awkwardly. Over time, this can be a contributing factor in back pain.