When you’re suffering from back pain, going for a walk might be the last thing you want to do. You might feel you can hardly stand upright, let alone stride out. However, there is plenty of evidence to show that walking will help you both mentally and physically by keeping you flexible, strengthening your muscles and lowering your blood pressure – as well as helping your back pain.
A 2018 study found that walking for more than three days a week for at least 30 minutes was associated with a reduction in back pain. People who walked for an hour a day, five days a week, got the best results. As you walk along, the natural exercise of lifting your legs, swinging your arms from the shoulder and breathing deeply is getting those joints moving. A good arm swing and a brisk pace are best, as these strengthen your myofascial slings (soft connective tissue consisting of ligaments, fascia and muscle) which are essential for stability throughout the body. And meanwhile, improved blood flow works to transport nutrients and carry away waste from muscles and organs. And it’s all free.
Here are our tips for making the most of a walk in the fresh air
- Slow or Fast? Walking slowly isn’t the best way if you’re suffering from back pain. It will increase the static load on the structures of your back and make you tend to lock your knees as you walk, so you can end up feeling sore. You’ll probably not be able to do that healthy arm swing either, if you’re walking slowly.
- A lot or a little? If you’re in a great deal of pain, you may think that you’d rather rest. In fact, walking about is the best thing you can do for yourself. Even if you’re only able to do a few minutes at first, make sure you move every half-hour. But as you improve, getting out and about is a major benefit. If you can’t manage that 30 minutes, why not split up your walks into ten minute packages? If you need a little more support, you could try walking in the swimming pool, where buoyancy and water resistance make it a great way to exercise.
- Posture and technique: stand tall and be aware of the balance of your shoulders above your hips and your head above your heels. Walk with ‘purpose’ as though you have somewhere you need to get to – swing the arms from the shoulders, not the elbows and maintain a comfortably brisk pace.
- Footwear: choose shoes which support the feet. They should lace up adequately, have an insole which slightly raises and cushions your heel and good grip on the sole. A good walking shoe or trainer should be fine.
- Backpack: if you’re taking a drink and a snack with you, keeping them in a bag which hangs from one shoulder will throw you off balance. Choose a pack with wide adjustable straps which can distribute the weight across both shoulders and tighten it so that the pack hugs your shoulders but not so much that it bites in.
- Walking poles: you may not be going up mountains, but a walking stick or a pair of poles are proven to distribute the weight of your pack, protect your ankles and knees from impact and work your shoulders and arms too. But the advice is to build up gradually – they’ll leave your upper body feeling tired if you go all out from the beginning. Treat them like a new pair of shoes that you’re breaking in.
May is National Walking Month so take the opportunity to walk – and your back will thank you.