Walking away from back pain

This post is the last in a series on walking.

More people with chronic back pain opt for an active lifestyle. Regular walking can provide relief for many people suffering from lower back pain.

Walking for lower back pain

Walking, particularly brisk walking, is one of the best things you can do for your back. Research shows that walking is as effective as rehabilitative back exercises in reducing low back pain. In fact, recreational walking often becomes the exercise of choice because it is effective, gentle and easy to do.

Brisk walking increases circulation and brings nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, fibers, ligaments and spinal disks. It eliminates toxins and reduces inflammation. It strengthens pelvic and lower back muscles and helps maintain a healthy posture.

For the spine to be healthy, it needs to be kept flexible. Movement is the key to flexibility. Regular brisk walks can help keep your back flexible without placing any excess pressure on your spinal disks. A few gentle stretches after your walk will also improve your flexiblility. With your physiotherapist, find out which stretching exercises are the best ones for your back.

Consistent brisk walking will help you cope more positively with back pain. When you brisk walk, your body releases endorphins and serotonin. These natural chemicals can elevate your mood and reduce pain.

Reducing lower back pressure

Sitting for long periods of time shortens postural muscles and increases pressure on your spine. When you sit or stand for too long, your body weight is distributed to your lower back and hips. Changing from a standing or sitting position to walking forward redistributes your body weight, increases your circulation and reduces pressure on your lower back.

How much walking 

10752156325_9793fdfd82Most of us walk between 3,000 to 4,000 steps in a day. Health experts recommend that we try to walk 10, 000 steps a day. In addition to increasing your daily steps, at least 20 minutes of brisk walking per day can help control and prevent sciatic and lower back pain.

How to walk for a healthy back

When you walk, maintain a straight and comfortable posture. Don’t lean forward or backward and don’t arch your back. Tightening your abdominal muscles and rotating your hips slightly forward will prevent you from arching your back. To avoid straining your neck and back, keep your chin up and look forward, at least six metres (20 feet) ahead of you; don’t look down. Let your shoulders relax and fall back slightly. Keep your arms close to your body and swing them naturally to the movement of your walk.

Seven reminders

  • In the early stages of back pain, ten minutes of daily walking is sufficient.
  • At first walk slowly; gradually increase your pace and distance as pain reduces.
  • Walk on flat even ground; avoid going uphill or downhill.
  • Reduce sitting time; find opportunities at home and at work to walk more.
  • Aim for walking 10,000 steps a day; you can keep track with a fitbit or pedometer.
  • When driving long distances, stop regularly and walk and stretch your legs.
  • If you have serious back pain, consult your doctor before starting a fitness programme.

If you want to walk away from back pain, you need to reduce your sitting time and increase your walking time. Walking is a natural, gentle and free intervention. The only expense is a good pair of shoes. Walking regularly will do wonders for your back, your morale and your general health.

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Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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