The Problem of Low Back Pain
It is estimated that almost half of the US population will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime. Low back pain can decrease our ability to participate in recreational sports and everyday activities, such as dressing and getting out of bed. Back pain can be acute (short duration, less than 4 weeks of symptoms) or chronic (lasting greater than 6 months). Often, people are uncertain what activities or exercises may be beneficial to help relieve their symptoms. Another barrier to exercise may be the cost of joining a gym or yoga studio.
However, there is an easy and accessible exercise you can do which requires no cost. Walk!
Walking is good for your low back pain!
A walk a day can improve your low back pain. One research study found walking is just as effective as other forms of physical exercises for improving low back pain. Walking programs were found to lower pain levels, disability, and improve overall quality of life in individuals with chronic low back pain. This form of exercise can be a low-cost solution to helping reduce your pain and get you back to the activities you enjoy.
What are other benefits of walking?
In addition to helping reduce your pain, walking:
- Increases muscle endurance
- Decreases stress
- Improves cardiovascular fitness (decrease cholesterol, BP, diabetes, and inflammation)
- Improves mood
- Decreases use of pain medication
- Helps with weight management
How long/far should you walk?
Another study compared various walking programs of different durations and frequencies (days per week)2. It compared a group that walked 30 minutes per day and another group who walked 60 minutes per day. The study showed that as number of days and minutes per walking increased, pain decreased. The conclusion was that walking 3 days per week for 30 minutes is associated with a lower risk of low back pain.
Tips to beginning and sustaining a walking program
Like an exercise program you will want to gradually increase the intensity. Begin with a 10 minute walk and assess how you feel immediately following the walk and the next day. If soreness from the walk persists for 24 hours than continue with a 10 minute walking duration until you no longer are experiencing soreness. Once you are able to complete a 10 minute walk with ease, begin increasing your walking time in 10 minute increments every week until you reach 30 minutes.
Other suggestions to maintaining your walking program
- Find a walking buddy to keep you accountable
- Set realistic goals for yourself to not get discouraged
- Change your walking path so it feels less redundant
- Invest in a fitness watch to help track your daily steps and walking
What if walking increases my back pain?
The research indicates that walking is just as effective (not superior) to other types of physical exercises. Therefore, if walking increases your pain, this may not be the most appropriate form of exercise for you to participate in. A physical therapist can help create an effective exercise program for you that does not aggravate your symptoms. There is no one size fit all exercise program for low back pain. The best way to be consistent with your program is to find exercises that feel good and you enjoy.
- Vanti C, Andreatta S, Borghi S, Guccione AA, Pillastrini P, Bertozzi L. The effectiveness of walking versus exercise on pain and function in chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Disabil Rehabil. 2019 Mar;41(6):622-632. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2017.1410730. Epub 2017 Dec 5. PMID: 29207885.
- Park, Sang-Min, et al. “Walking More than 90minutes/Week Was Associated with a Lower Risk of Self-Reported Low Back Pain in Persons over 50years of Age: A Cross-Sectional Study Using the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.” The Spine Journal, Elsevier, 15 Nov. 2018, https://www.thespinejournalonline.com/article/S1529-9430(18)31226-9/fulltext#articleInformation.
- “5 Surprising Benefits of Walking.” Harvard Health, 25 Aug. 2022, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/5-surprising-benefits-of-walking.