Back pain is a common condition that affects most people at some point in their lives. There are different kinds of back pain, and while some might be temporary, others might require medical attention...Learn more
Lower back pain can be a nuisance. It could also be debilitating in severe cases. Regular exercise, like walking, can help relieve lower back pain and promote good spine health.
Understanding How the Spine Works
Your spine is your body’s central support system. It is made up of a number of bones called vertebrae separated by spinal disks and held together with muscles and ligaments. The center of your spine is hollow. This space is called your spinal column and holds your spinal cord.
If you were to look at your spine from the side, it has four natural curves. Your neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine) curves inward, towards the front of your body. Your upper back (thoracic spine) and the bottom of your spine (sacral spine) curve slightly outward – away from the center of your body.
The S-shape of your spine supports your body weight and helps you stay balanced when you are upright. It also absorbs the shock that is generated when you walk and move around.
You have 33 vertebrae, which are the boney bits of your spine. Each vertebra has a vertebral body. You also have 23 spinal discs between most of your vertebrae, except between your skull, the first and second cervical vertebrae in your neck, and your sacrum. The spinal discs consist of a pocket filled with a gel-like substance surrounded by cartilage fiber. These discs allow your spine to flex and move while also absorbing shock from walking, running, and jumping.
Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Common causes of lower back pain include mechanical issues of the soft tissue like a sprained ligament or a strained muscle. This could be caused by damage to the intervertebral discs, compression of your nerve roots, or your spinal joints not moving correctly.
Chronic lower back pain is when pain in your lower back lasts longer than three months. This chronic pain could be caused by issues with your spinal discs, joints, or an irritated nerve root. Causes for these conditions could include:
- A herniated disc happens when the gel-like substance inside a spinal disc has broken through the cartilage-like tissue that encapsulates it. The fluid could then touch and irritate or compress a nerve root and cause pain and discomfort.
- Degenerative disc disease is when your spinal discs lose their natural hydration. Thus, there is a decrease in their ability to absorb the pressure and shock that your spine incurs when moving around. This shock then gets transferred to the disc wall and causes damage to the wall, leading to herniation.
- Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal, through which your spinal cord runs, narrows.
- Osteoarthritis can arise from the normal wear and tear of your spinal discs and facet joints.
Treating the Pain
Light, low-impact aerobic exercise is beneficial to maintain good back health. Physical activity could also promote pain relief, especially when you engage in physical therapy under the direction of a physical therapist. Swimming, riding a bike, and walking are all low-impact exercises that can help strengthen your muscles and ultimately protect your back.
Benefits of Exercise and Walking
Walking is especially beneficial for good lower back health. It strengthens the muscles in your feet, legs, hips, and core. This helps stabilize your spine and take some stress off your spine as it works to keep you upright. If you combine walking with stretching, you can improve the general range of motion of your spine. This helps to protect your spine from damage or injury.
Walking also increases your circulation. More blood flow, in turn, provides more nourishment for your spine while removing toxins that could cause pain or inflammation.
Ways to Prevent Lower Back Pain When Walking
While walking is a relatively low-impact activity, there are some things that you can do to keep your spine healthy and protected when you walk.
Stretching is essential before any exercise, and that includes walking. Stretching out your muscles before exercise helps prepare your muscles and joints for the activity you are about to do. Slowly warm up your muscles by walking leisurely for about five minutes before you start stretching. This will help to avoid cramps or muscle spasms when you exercise. When you stretch your muscles in preparation for exercise, focus on including the muscles in your neck, arms, hips, back, legs (upper and lower legs), and ankles.
Once you are warmed up and stretched, start walking at a brisk pace. You should walk fast enough to get your heart pumping, but not so fast that you get out of breath. A good rule of thumb is that you want to still be able to carry on a conversation while you are walking.
If you haven’t been active for a while, start out with 5-minute walks and work up to 30 minutes at least three to four times per week.
Focus on your posture as you walk – your back health is one of the reasons why you are doing it after all! Keep your head up and focus on the horizon without slouching forward, you want to keep your shoulders relaxed and your chest pushed forward slightly. Engage your abdominal muscles to help protect your lower spine. Move naturally from your hips with stride-lengths that feel comfortable. Keep your arms at your sides and elbows bent at 90 degrees with your hands relaxed and slightly cupped. While your arms in this position, work in a natural arm swing. Use the balls of your feet and toes to gently push forward with every step while landing gently on your heel and midfoot.
Get a Good Pair of Walking Shoes
Your feet carry your body and function as shock absorbers when you move through your daily activities. That means if anything is wrong with your feet, it is likely to transfer to other parts of your body.
A good pair of walking shoes give your feet and ankles stability while providing cushioning and shock absorption when you walk or run. They are flexible enough to allow your feet to move naturally while sturdy enough to give your feet enough support. Well-fitting and supportive shoes promote a natural gait, which helps prevent leg pain and hip pain and encourages good posture.
Lower back pain does not have to result in bed rest. Low-impact activities like walking can not only help keep your spine strong and protected; it could also provide pain relief.