I’ve previously written on some causes of chronic neck pain. Since your body works synergistically, an imbalance in the neck can cause and reinforce back pain. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to poor body alignment, reducing your range of motion and causing a stiff lower back. Chronic pain, including chronic lower back pain, often hinders your mobility and comfort in everyday life, which can be frustrating and disheartening.
The reverse can be true as well. A wide range of causes leads to chronic lower back pain, including injury or herniated disks. The resulting pain can make it difficult to hold your body in proper alignment, worsening your sitting, standing, and walking posture.
If you’ve gone a long time with chronic back pain limiting your activity, walking can be your first step into a more active lifestyle. Learning to walk efficiently can be an important step in your pain management journey.
What is Efficient Walking?
Inefficient walking can exacerbate chronic lower back pain. It often leaves you out of breath, in pain, or prone to stumbling. You may be walking inefficiently due to poor patterns of movement that contribute to:
Changes in Posture
Poor patterns of movement put a strain on your muscles and joints, reinforcing imbalances that cause pain.
In contrast, learning to walk efficiently addresses your body’s compensations and accommodations. It optimizes every aspect of your posture — toes, ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, and neck — so you can walk comfortably and with less pain.
Why Efficient Walking Aids Lower Back Pain
Walking brings with it a wide range of benefits, not just for your physical health, but for your emotional health. Outdoor walking can be especially pleasing for the senses. Besides improved mental wellbeing, here are three important physical benefits you should take into account.
Improve Blood, Lymphatic, and Neurotransmitter Flow
Through walking, you largely improve your cardiovascular health and circulation. This brings more blood flow to your brain, muscles, and joints, allowing your body to better receive oxygen and other vital nutrients. The smooth repetitive motion of the ankle and joints gently tugs on the veins and the lymphatic vessels of the leg improving their ability to carry blood and waste products back to the heart. Walking as little as 10 minutes a day also increases specific neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine. These changes in brain chemistry are responsible for the feelings of happiness and an increase in energy.
Quality walking is quality medicine. ~ Cynthia Allen, GCFP
Strengthen Back Muscles
Muscle weakness can be a large factor in chronic joint pain. Quality walking helps strengthen those deeper muscles surrounding your spine and hips, allowing them to better support you as you walk. Luckily, it’s a whole-body workout so you get benefits beyond just your back, too.
Increases Lower Back Flexibility
When we think of walking, we think of someone putting one foot in front of the other and see them moving forward. But there are other types of walking too. Try taking a few minutes exploring these options as well over a distance of 10-15 feet:
Sidestepping to the right and then back to the left
Walking backward: along a diagonal to the right and the return
Walking backward: along a diagonal to the left and then return
Walking in any direction keeping a wide base or maintaining a consistent distance between the feet
Walking well reduces the stiffness that often comes with chronic pain. If you spend most of your time reclined, incorporating even light activity into your daily routine can be beneficial. Lack of activity will exacerbate pain, especially over months and years.
You don’t need to begin with long walks if your body finds it uncomfortable. Walk short distances at first. If you sit for long periods at once, an easy way to begin is to take frequent walking breaks in your home or office. As you build your endurance and comfort level, you can take daily walks and walk for longer periods of time.
Looking to Relieve Chronic Lower Back Pain?
While walking is a great way to begin reducing your chronic pain, you may require more specialized help from a movement professional. You can easily get in touch online so we can pinpoint the cause of your pain together.
Carol is a physical therapist, a co-creator of Integral Human Gait theory, a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, and a Senior Trainer in Movement Intelligence. Focus, Align, Teach and Inspire! These qualities not only describe her work, but they also describe her presence. She is passionate when it comes to reconnecting learning with human function and health. Carol is in private practice at MontgomerySomatics.com in Columbus, Indiana.