Walking Away Your Low Back Pain

Man With Back Pain

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If you have low back pain, your doctor may recommend that you stay physically active. Walking is often part of this prescription. Understanding its effectiveness can help you create a walking routine that potentially provides low back pain relief.

Does Walking Really Prevent Low Back Pain?

Science supports physical movement as a way to prevent low back pain. For instance, one systematic review of the evidence found that both exercise alone and exercise combined with education helps reduce low back pain episodes.

What about walking specifically? A study of over 5,000 older adults found that those who walked were less likely to have low back pain. This was significant because a quarter of the participants had experienced back pain for at least one month, if not longer.

Another piece of research stresses that, if low back pain is already present, not moving around could actually delay recovery. It further suggests that exercise therapy should be a "primary treatment" for helping to relieve this pain.

Walking as Effective as Other Exercises

A study published in 2013 looked at whether a treadmill walking program works as well as a back exercise program for people with chronic low back pain. To find the answer, 52 sedentary people were split into two groups.

One group followed a six-week strengthen training program that required two exercise sessions per week. The other group did treadmill walking at a moderately-intense effort (such as with brisk walking). At first, they walked for 10 minutes, working up to 40-minute sessions twice weekly.

Both groups had significant improvement in a six-minute walking test. They also both showed improvements in back and abdomen muscle endurance tests, as well as on the Low Back Pain Functional Scale (LBPFS).

Additional Benefits of Walking for Low Back Pain

One of the advantages of a walking program is that it doesn't require costly or bulky exercise equipment. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and you are ready to start walking your back pain away.

Another benefit of walking over other forms of treatment is that it doesn't require time with a therapist. Walking is something you can literally do anywhere, enabling you to fit it in at a time (and location) that is most convenient for you.

The Walking Prescription

Physicians and chiropractors have long prescribed walking for low back pain patients. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke adds that "exercise may be the most effective way to speed recovery from low back pain."

If you're not used to walking, start slow. Walk for five or 10 minutes at a time to get your body used to the movement. Once this feels comfortable, try to walk for longer periods without stopping.

If you've had back surgery, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends exercising for 10 to 30 minutes one to three times per day during recovery. This can include walking on a treadmill or using a stationary bike.

While it can be difficult to motivate yourself to keep moving despite the pain, the result should be less pain and a faster recovery. If lower back pain becomes chronic, the guidelines supervised exercise therapy may be required.

If your low back pain increases while walking, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to discuss whether it is safe for you to continue.

Walking Posture Is Important

If you have low back pain, it's important to practice good walking posture. This involves keeping your spine in a neutral position, leaning neither forward nor backward, with your abdominal muscles engaged. This protects your lower back.

When walking, also strive to keep your head up and eyes forward. Simple corrections to your posture can prevent low back pain when you walk and assist in pain relief and recovery for those with low back pain.

Complementary Exercises to Walking

If you have low back pain, it may help to add a few additional exercises to your walking program. Here are a few to consider:

  • Stretching: In one study, 81% of the participants had either moderate or high-level pain relief after engaging in regular stretching exercises. Stretches helpful for back pain include the pelvic tilt, hip opener, and knees-to-chest.
  • Yoga: After looking at 10 different trials, researchers concluded that there is "strong evidence" that yoga helps with chronic low back pain. Yoga poses for low back pain include Cat-Cow and Child's Pose.
  • Strength Training: Adding strength training to your walking routine helps strengthen the muscles that support your lower back. Weight training exercises for back pain include leg presses, bench presses, and lat pull downs.

A Word From Verywell

Walking is a good way to prevent and treat low back pain, with research showing that it is often better than bed rest. Check with your doctor or physical therapist first. As long as they feel it's safe, you may find that walking regularly helps keep your low back pain at bay.

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