How to walk with less back pain and for a longer time
SN Health Resources | Published August 23, 2018
Does your back hurt when you walk after any period of time?
Normally when you walk for any period, it’s usually your feet that are the first to become sore. That’s certainly the case for me. Even with my orthotics and my best footwear.
But my back never hurts from walking. I’m not an exceptional case. You should be able to walk without any soreness in your lower back or your hip joint.
Although it is considered a healthier alternative to jogging (and involves much less wear and tear), you would be a little surprised that your back would become sore after something as low impact as walking.
Here are some important tips to keep you walking with less pain
Be sure to get fitted with the correct footwear
It’s generally better to wear running shoes for walking over cross trainers or standard walking shoes. Look for enough arch support but only if you find that the arches of your feet are weak and require it. Those of us with adequate arch support with not find any improved benefit.
Consider seeing a foot specialist for possible orthotics
(NOTE: I am not being paid to sponsor any product here. I only speak from personal experience in order to help you)
They are expensive but last a very long time (several years). The benefit of having them is that you can put your single pair into virtually any shoe you have without the orthotic device occupying any extra space in your footwear. You’ll feel more comfortable and can preserve your arch with almost any closed foot wear you have.
I personally find them superior over any shoe that I have purchased even with the best built in arch support. The added bonus is that the orthotic absorbs the majority of the wear and tear that your feet normally puts your shoe through. Orthotics can withstand an incredible amount of abuse without wearing out. I have had the same pair for about 30 years and they have not failed in their design or support.
This means that you can preserve your shoe or boot for a much longer time without having to replace them.
Although there are a number of foot exercises that you can do to naturally restrengthen your foot (which you can also do), the orthotic will help you increase your walking time and reduce the wear and strain on your joints.
Stretch and strengthen your walking muscles
These are not just limited to your quads and calves. There are a lot more muscles you should be stretching in order to avoid feeling sore. Stretching your quads and calves will help for sure but when you feel sore, it’s not just these muscles that are responsible.
Here is what to look out for:
Gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, quadriceps, calves, abdominals & hamstrings.
There are more of course but as you stretch and strengthen the above muscle groups the others (not listed) will also be reconditioned.
I have illustrated below 3 areas you can focus on now before, during and after your walk. The more you do them, the longer and more comfortable your walk will be.
Spend 1-2 minutes total on your walk to feel better
These simple and quick exercises will only require about 1-2 minutes of your time and will relieve a lot of back pain.
The Standing Abdominal Exercise (less than 1 min)
What I’m doing above here is simply contracting my abs while contracting my glutes (butt muscles).
When you feel sore from walking or standing, your pelvis tends to tilt anteriorly. This forward tilt of your lumbar spine squeezes on the nearby discs and the facets joints. Your L5-S1 really get abused from this and is usually to first to wear out.
By keeping your abdominals active and clenching your butt cheeks, you are directly helping to reverse this effect. If you have back problems, then this is a very common discomfort for you.
You can also sit to have the same relief but by performing the Standing Abdominal, you’re retraining these muscles so that they will gradually correct this tilt and provide more of the protection and comfort that you need as your walk or stand.
Persist and it will pay off in the long run (or walk)
At first, it won’t feel like you are accomplishing much with this exercise but trust me, you are.
Abdominals and glutes are very slow to restrengthen. But when you have successfully reconditioned them, they will automatically provide the necessary support your spine needs ALL OF THE TIME and not just from walking.
What most people don’t realize is that it is NOT the walk that causes your back to hurt. It’s the imbalances that you already have that are worsened from the chronic contractions of the walk. This is just as evident when you are also standing (yes there are constant contractions even as you stand!).
The Standing Hip Shift Exercise (less than 30 seconds)
To do this exercise:
- support yourself on one leg
- raise one thigh up to horizontal and hold
- tilt your hips so your raised side is higher than the supported side
- contract your hip muscles and hold for up to 15 seconds per side
Walking requires a lot of hip muscle contraction. It’s not just your quads and calves that do all of the work. Your hip flexors and glutes are constantly tightening up on you. You can get further help if you have tight hip flexors.
This is where the symptoms of tightness that you are experiencing in both your hips and lower back can be helped.
If you have never tried this exercise before, then you may find it really tough to do at first. Don’t worry, this is to be expected. By persisting, you’ll loosen up very restricted area surrounding your lower back that have been giving you that dull ache when you walk.
The Standing Hip Shift will improve your walking stride because it will keep your pelvis from dropping to the side as you step. You’ll relieve your back as well as your hip pain.
The Leaning Hip Shift Exercise (less than 30 seconds)
Perform this exercise by:
- leaning over onto a support. Avoid leaning without a support.
- keep your back straight.
- bend one knee as much as possible while keeping the other straight
- alternate from one leg to the next in a rocking motion
The benefit of this exercise is the quickly stimulate your hip joint while gently stretching your hamstrings.
You’ll want to keep your back as straight as possible but a slight curve is OK. The more that you can lengthen your hamstrings the easier it will be for you to straighten your back.
This exercise is more enjoyable that the basic static stretch because you’re actively rocking from side to side. You’ll still maintain your heart rate and circulation at the same intensity as you would have wanted during your time walking.
Walking, standing and sitting tends to shorten your hamstrings. The tighter that they become, the worse it is for your pain. This exercise will help you to keep them from pulling on your pelvis while you continue to walk for longer distances.
What about Quadricep and Calf Stretches?
Those are definitely essential but you can always do those outside of your walking routine. I chose these 3 exercises as another option instead of Quad and Calf stretches during your walk.
These 3 exercises are quick to do and provide fast relief.
Remember to stretch and strengthen with any activity. Muscles do warm up with any physical activity but they shorten also. And as you get older, they are less likely to relax or respond without enough reconditioning.
The above 3 exercise do require contraction but in an antagonistic way. The work to release built up tightness in other areas by activating muscles that are not being well put to use at all. This lack of activity is what causes your chronic discomfort. The effect of contracting and activating specific muscles will help to loosen and lengthen others that have become too tight.
For Even More Help: