Lower back pain while walking: stretches, exercises + how to treat and prevent

Lower back pain is a common problem that can make it difficult to get your steps, but there are exercises and treatments you can do to mitigate pain and stay active. When your lower back hurts, it’s hard to maintain proper walking posture, and pain makes it hard to reach your recommended daily activity level. If you’ve experienced pain, you’re not alone. According to the WHO, as high as 70% of people in industrialized countries will experience lower back pain in their lifetimes.

It is possible to treat and prevent many common causes of lower back pain. With proper treatment, rest, and lower back exercises you can get your 30 minutes of walking per day or even hit a 10,000 step goal. Learn more about what is causing your lower back pain, and then figure out how to properly treat it or reverse the problem. 

Note: If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)!

Lower Back Pain is Very Common

Man with lower back pain graphic concept

Lower back pain, at least on an occasional basis, is a very common injury. The American Chiropractic Association estimates that one half of working Americans report back pain every year, resulting in up to 264 million lost days of work yearly. Chronic lower back pain is less common but still far from rare. The NIH estimates that 4.2% of people aged 24-39 and 19.6% of people aged 20-59 experienced chronic lower back pain.

Walking Can Actually Help With Back Pain!

Sporty woman smiling in the sunshine outside

Walking can actually help to ease back pain symptoms and strengthen your back! Walking helps to strengthen your back muscles, which can help you maintain proper posture and keep your spine in alignment. If you find maintaining good posture is a bit of a workout on your back, that could be your back muscles getting a nice workout. Make sure to maintain proper posture, and slow down or stop if your posture slips rather than trying to push forward and get more steps.

Walking also keeps your spine flexible and increases circulation in your back muscles. Exercise can keep your bones strong as well. A daily walking habit can help you lose a bit of weight as well, which can help to ease pressure on your spine.

Common Causes of Lower Back Pain

Woman holding her lower back due to pain

  • Muscle Strains: A muscle sprain, sometimes called a “pulled muscle,” is when your muscle fibers tear. This usually either happens from a longer-term overuse injury or a sudden overstretching (like trying to lift something too heavy with bad form). Mild strains can be healed simply by resting, but a serious tear could require physical therapy or in extreme cases surgery to correct the torn muscle.
  • Lumbar Sprains: Sprains are injuries to ligaments or tendons that connect muscles and joints together. People usually think of ankle sprains, but the connecting tissue that connects your lumbar vertebrae can also be injured. Like strains, lumbar strains can often heal from simple rest. More serious pain should be checked out to test for more serious injuries like disk problems.
  • Hyperlordosis: Hyperlordosis is an abnormal curvature of your spine, which can be caused by several factors including chronic bad posture, lack of exercise or in some cases obesity. Hyperlordosis can often be treated and cured by performing back strengthening exercises, as well as practicing good posture to prevent a recurrence.
  • Disk injury or herniated disk: Your spine is composed of the vertebra, which are separated by soft disks that act as shock absorbers. If these disks become damaged or wear out because of age, exertion or poor posture, they can cause pain in your back. A herniated disk is when parts of the disk rupture, or push through a tear in the surrounding tissue. Disk injuries are serious injuries that can become worse and more debilitating over time. If you suspect a disk injury, you should see a doctor right away for tests. More mild cases can be treated with physical therapy and strengthening exercises, but serious cases may require surgery.
  • Spinal Stenosis: In older people, the spinal canal can begin to narrow and pinch nerves. This tightness can create pain or tingling in your back and other areas of your body. Spinal stenosis is not curable, but the pain can be relieved with anti-inflammatory medications. Spinal stenosis can also lead to sciatica, which is a sharp pain that results from a pinched sciatic nerve. There are certain stretches that can relieve sciatica
  • Sciatica: Sciatica is pain that usually branches out from the spine to the buttocks and legs through the sciatic nerve. A herniated disk, spinal stenosis or other spine injuries can pinch the sciatic nerve which then causes pain down the leg. Many cases of sciatica go away on their own, but serious cases may require surgery.

How’s Your Walking Posture?

Woman with bad and good walking posture

One of the main causes of regular, mild lower back pain is poor walking posture. When your spine is out of alignment as you walk, your muscles, ligaments, and vertebra are forced into unnatural positions and movements. This increases the chance of overuse injuries, lumbar problems, and even more serious issues over time.

If you are walking with pain in your lower back, it’s a good idea to check your walking posture. Simply ensuring that you always walk with the correct walking posture can relieve a lot of the aches and pains you feel. It can also help strengthen your back muscles and work as a simple back exercise that can ease lower back pain.

Here are some tips for proper walking posture. Check our piece for more details!

  • Stand up straight. If an imaginary string were pulled up from the top of your head, you’d feel tall, neither leaning forward or backward.
  • Keep your chin parallel to the ground, with your gaze will be about 20 feet in front of you. Resist the urge to stare at the ground as you walk, which can lead to slumped posture and back issues.
  • Keep your back straight, and do not arch it forward or backward.
  • Point your toes forward.
  • Engage your core muscles by sucking in your stomach a little bit.
  • Use natural arm motion as you walk with your shoulders relaxed.

Other Reasons for Back Pain

Woman incline hill walking with backpack

There may be other factors that are causing your poor posture or back issues that you’ll need to address to correct the underlying issue.

Other injuries

If you’re dealing with a knee injury, hip injury or chronic foot pain, it could be causing poor posture as you walk. Dealing with that injury can help give you a more natural walking motion, better posture, and a healthier back.

Lighten Your Load

Carrying a heavy backpack or purse, carrying heavy loads at work, or lifting weights with poor form can all lead to strain and stress on your back. A heavy backpack is probably unlikely to cause a sudden injury, but it can cause problems in two ways. Heavy loads can break your posture, causing you to slump forward and look towards the ground. They can also cause pain in your shoulders, causing you to change your walking form to relieve the pain. Either way, you may be putting your lower back and lumbar region in danger of injury.

Lifting heavy loads adds another danger – a sudden strain or acute injury. If you do need to lift heavy things, try to use your legs rather than your back. Lift with a straight back, ideally with your back pointed vertically rather than bent over at a 90-degree angle. For ideas, try watching a video on proper squat or deadlift form. This doesn’t mean that you need to do those exercises, but understanding how athletes lift heavy weights safely can help you lift regular things safely in your daily life.

Shoes and Gear

The wrong walking shoes can hurt your feet and damage your posture, which can result in back injuries over time. Try to walk in comfortable walking shoes, or at least running or other athletic shoes

Lose a Few Pounds

Obesity can be a factor in back injuries. Being heavier means that your muscles and joints need to work harder to move you around, and being heavy can throw your spine out of alignment. Extra weight in the stomach can pull your spine forward, so getting active, losing a few pounds and reducing belly fat can help relieve minor back pain in many cases.

Simple Treatments for Lower Back Pain

The best thing you can do for back pain is to listen to what your body is telling you. If you’re feeling pain from your walking routine, try to figure out what is causing it. Is it bad posture? Then take some steps to fix your posture. Does your back feel ok for the first half of your long walks, but then starts to hurt as time goes on? Your posture could be failing over time, or you may need to strengthen your back or take shorter walks. Does your back start to hurt after a few days of walking? You may be overtraining – not getting enough sleep or taking enough rest days.

If your back pain is severe, you should see a doctor right away. While minor back pain may go away on its own, even minor soreness could be the first sign of a serious injury or long-term condition. The earlier that your doctor can diagnose and treat your issue, the easier it will be to treat. Your doctor can also give you specific treatments for your specific issue.

Treatments for Minor Back Pain

Ice pack on lower back for pain

Minor aches, pains, and strains can often be cured by simple rest. You may want to take a look at your mattress if you’re experiencing back pain after waking – a good sleep cures a lot of issues! Here are some other potential treatments:

  • Ice or heat: Both ice packs and heat packs can give temporary relief to back pain. There is an eternal debate amongst doctors and therapists about heat vs ice, but you can try both and see which works better for you. Make sure that you don’t leave either an ice or heat pack on for too long as both cold and heat can cause burns if left on too long.
  • Massage: Back massage can relieve temporary pain, but an untrained or unlicensed masseuse can actually make things worse. Try to find a physical therapist or trained masseuse to reduce the risk that they’ll make things worse.
  • Stretching: Stretching keeps you flexible, so it’s a great way to begin and end each walking session. You can try these Pacer-recommended walking warmup stretches, or you can also check out other back-specific stretches like these.
  • OTC Pain relief medication: Pain medication like aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can temporarily relieve pain. They will not cure the underlying symptoms, however, and should only be used sparingly. Most OTC pain medicines can actually damage your body if used long term, so only use these as a last resort and see your doctor if you need to use them more than rarely.

Ways to Strengthen Your Lower Back

Man doing back stretching exercises in the park

Looking for ways to keep your lower back limber and pain-free? There are many exercises designed to do just that. When doing back stretches or weight-bearing back exercises, make sure to go slowly and use perfect form. If you’re not sure how to perform them, try to find a trainer or ask your doctor for tips. Doing back exercises incorrectly, especially if you’re lifting weights, can cause back injuries.

Back stretches and exercises:

For basic back stretches, try these lower back rotational stretches and seated lower back rotational stretches from this list on Medical News Today.

General core exercises (like these from Self.com) can help you maintain better posture, as well as strengthen the muscles around your back.

Consider using a back brace to relieve lower back pain and also prevent future back pain. A brace supports your back so you are better able to move. It can also help improve your posture. Most braces are less than $50 and can be found at many stores.

Final Thoughts

Suffering from lower back pain too often leads people to stop their walking routine. However, inactivity is one of the worst things you can do for your back! Try to remain active, using simple treatments to ease the pain, and keep working toward better posture and a strong body

Get Pacer Today!

If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.

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