How Walking Helps Prevent Back Pain

Walking for lower back pain

A recent study published on June 19 in The Lancet suggests that walking regularly can significantly reduce the frequency of low back pain episodes. This finding emphasizes the simplicity and effectiveness of walking as a health intervention, especially considering the widespread impact of low back pain on individuals and the healthcare system.

The Scope of Low Back Pain

Data from 2020 indicates that approximately 619 million people suffer from low back pain, with projections estimating an increase to 843 million by 2050. Despite this, preventive measures for back pain are often neglected. Natasha Pocovi, PhD, the study’s first author and a researcher in the Department of Health Sciences at Macquarie University in Australia, stresses the importance of prevention for alleviating the burden on the healthcare system.

“If we can target the prevention of back pain, that’s going to help the healthcare system immensely,” Pocovi told Health.

The Study’s Findings

The study followed 701 adults, with an average age of 54, who had recently experienced low back pain. The majority of participants (81%) were women. An “episode” of low back pain was defined as lasting at least 24 hours, scoring at least a two on a zero-to-10 pain scale, and significantly impacting daily activities.

Participants were divided into two groups: an intervention group and a control group. The intervention group received six guided education sessions with a physiotherapist and an individualized walking plan, encouraging them to aim for five 30-minute walks each week over six months.

Conducted from September 2019 to June 2022, the study tracked participants for one to three years. Accelerometers were used to monitor step counts and brisk-walking steps for seven days, three months into the study.

Results showed that the control group experienced another episode of back pain after an average of 112 days, compared to 208 days for the walking group. Pocovi noted, “We always had a hunch that the walking was going to work, but we were surprised to see that such a simple intervention was as effective as it was.”

Why Walking Helps

Experts agree that walking can help prevent low back pain due to several factors. Paul Cooke, MD, an assistant attending physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, explained, “Regular walking helps strengthen leg and core muscles, enhance aerobic capacity, control body weight, and reduce stress and tension.”

Elizabeth Yu, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, added that movement in general can decrease stiffness and fatigue associated with being sedentary. Beyond pain relief, regular exercise or walking can improve strength, mobility, mood, and energy.

Getting Started with Walking

For those looking to incorporate walking into their routine to alleviate back pain, it’s important to do so safely. Individuals with heart, lung, or circulation issues, or those recently hospitalized, should consult their doctor before significantly increasing their activity level. Patients undergoing physical therapy should discuss incorporating walking into their home exercise program with their therapist.

Cooke emphasized that the exercise does not need to be strenuous, especially for those experiencing pain. A gradual approach is recommended. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests starting with 10 minutes of walking four times a week and gradually increasing to 35 minutes of brisk walking five times a week over two months.

Safety Tips for Walking

Safety Tips for Walking

Before starting a new walking regimen, consider the following safety precautions:

  • Wear supportive footwear.
  • Walk with a partner or inform someone of your expected return time.
  • Eat a snack and drink water beforehand to stay hydrated and energized.
  • Be mindful of weather conditions to avoid extreme temperatures.
  • Stay aware of your surroundings while walking.

It’s normal to experience some soreness when beginning a new exercise routine, but any pain beyond mild discomfort should be discussed with a physician.

“It is important to consult with a medical professional if one has had a major episode of pain,” Yu advised.

By incorporating regular walking into daily routines, individuals may find a simple yet effective way to reduce the frequency of low back pain episodes and improve overall health and well-being

A Quick Review

Regular walking can significantly reduce the frequency of lower back pain episodes, as shown in a study published in The Lancet. Participants who followed a walking regimen experienced fewer recurrences of pain, highlighting the effectiveness of this simple and accessible exercise. Walking helps strengthen muscles, improve aerobic capacity, and reduce stress, making it a valuable preventive measure against lower back pain


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