Walking Away Your Low Back Pain

Man With Back Pain
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If you have low back pain, your doctor has probably recommended that you stay physically active. Walking is part of the clinical guidelines for self-treatment for low back pain. A systematic review of the evidence verifies that exercise is good for the prevention of low back pain.

The Walking Prescription for Low Back Pain

Physicians and chiropractors have long prescribed walking for low back pain patients, and that is written into some clinical practice guidelines around the world. These guidelines generally advise people with an acute episode of low back pain to stay active and not to take bed rest. The old notions of bed rest and the La-Z-Boy recliner for low back pain are long gone.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends exercising for 10 to 30 minutes one to three times per day during recovery from low back surgery. 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. Specific back exercises are not advised for an acute injury. If lower back pain becomes chronic, the guidelines then call for supervised exercise therapy.

Posture Is Important

If you have low back pain you must practice good walking posture in order to relieve stress on the lower back. You want your spine to be in a neutral position, leaning neither forward nor backward, with your abdominal muscles engaged. This protects your lower back when you walk.

In addition to leaning, other posture mistakes when walking include failing to keep your head up and eyes forward. Simple corrections to your walking posture can prevent low back pain when you walk and assist in pain relief and recovery for those with low back pain.

Walking Is as Effective as Other Exercises for Low Back Pain

A study published in 2013 looked at whether a treadmill walking program worked as well as a back exercise program on function for people with chronic low back pain. The subjects were 52 sedentary people who had chronic low back pain. They split them into two groups. One group was given a six-week strengthening exercise program, which required two exercise sessions per week.

The other group instead did treadmill walking at a moderately-intense effort (such as with brisk walking). They walked for 10 minutes to begin with and then up to 40 minutes for two sessions per week. Both groups had significant improvement in a six-minute walking test, back and abdomen muscle endurance tests and the Low Back Pain Functional Scale (LBPFS).

One of the advantages to a walking program is that it doesn't require therapist time or equipment. It may be a better use of resources than a clinical back exercise program, especially if patients can be coached to do it at home.

Does Walking Really Prevent Low Back Pain?

A study of over 5,000 older adults found that those who walked more were less likely to have low back pain. This was significant because a quarter of the study participants had back pain.

Systematic reviews of studies have not found conclusive evidence that walking prevents low back pain better than other forms of exercise. But it is an easily accessible exercise that doesn't place new strains on the back.

A Word From Verywell

While researchers have suggested that walking may have a protective effect on preventing aches and pains, the benefit of walking has yet to be proven over other forms of exercise. The good news is that it doesn't seem to hurt. You are likely to be told to lace up your walking shoes if you have low back pain.

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