Walking Away Low Back Pain

Walking With Good Posture May Help Back Pain

Man with Back Pain
Man with Back Pain. Pali Rao/E+/Getty Images

Is walking a good self-treatment for low back pain? People with low back pain are usually given the recommendation to remain physically active, and that advice is part of clinical practice guidelines. A few research studies have contributed to the evidence that walking is good for people with low back pain.

For Low Back Pain - Keep Moving

A research study showed that walking for three hours or more a week helped low back pain patients have less pain.

Specific back exercises did not work as well in this study. UCLA researchers studied 681 low back pain patients. One group did specific low back exercises, another group walked the equivalent of three hours of brisk walking per week.

The walking group had less pain, disability, and psychological distress. Unfortunately, the low back exercise group had more pain and distress. This may be due to patients doing the exercises incorrectly. The study was published in the September, 2005 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Walking as Effective as Exercises for Chronic Low Back Pain

A study published in 2013 looked at whether a treadmill walking program worked as well as a back exercise program. The subjects were 52 sedentary people who had chronic low back pain. They split them into two groups. One group was given a six week clinic-based muscle strengthening program, which required three exercise sessions per week.

The other group instead did treadmill walking at a moderately intense effort (such as with brisk walking). They walked for 20 minutes to begin with and then up to 40 minutes for two to three sessions per week. Both groups had significant improvement in a six-minute walking test, back and abdomen muscle endurance tests and the Low Back Pain Functional Scale (LBPFS).

The lead researcher, Dr. Michal Katz-Leurer pointed out the advantages to a walking program, which doesn't require therapist time or equipment. It can be a better use of resources than a clinical back exercise program and patients can be coached to do it at home.

The Walking Prescription for Low Back Pain

Physicians and chiropractors have long prescribed walking for low back pain patients, and that is written into clinical practice guidelines. They must motivate patients to keep moving despite the pain, as the result is less pain and a faster recovery. The old notions of bed rest and the La-Z-Boy recliner for low back pain are dead.

Posture Important for Walking with Low Back Pain

Those with low back pain should practice good walking posture so as to relieve low back stress. Common walking posture mistakes are leaning forward, leaning back, and failing to keep the head up and eyes forward. Simple corrections to your walking posture can prevent low back pain when you walk and assist in pain relief and recovery for those with low back pain.

Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain

Does Walking Prevent Low Back Pain?

Systematic reviews of studies have not found evidence that walking prevents low back pain. One study followed sedentary office workers and found that walking decreased the risk of developing neck pain, but didn't reduce the incidence of low back pain. While researchers such as Dr. Katz-Leurer thinks walking may have a protective effect for preventing aches and pains, this has yet to be proven. The good news is that it doesn't seem to hurt.


Hurwitz EL, Morgenstern H, Chiao C. "Effects of recreational physical activity and back exercises on low back pain and psychological distress: findings from the UCLA Low Back Pain Study." Am J Public Health. 2005 Oct;95(10):1817-24.

Shnayderman I, Katz-Leurer M. "An aerobic walking programme versus muscle strengthening programme for chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial." Clin Rehabil. 2013 Mar;27(3):207-14. doi: 10.1177/0269215512453353. Epub 2012 Jul 31.

Roger Chou, MD; Amir Qaseem, MD, PhD, MHA; Vincenza Snow, MD; Donald Casey, MD, MPH, MBA; J. Thomas Cross Jr, MD, MPH; Paul Shekelle, MD, PhD; Douglas K. Owens, MD, MS, Clinical Efficacy Assessment Subcommittee of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Physicians/American Pain Society Low Back Pain Guidelines Panel. "Diagnosis and Treatment of Low Back Pain: A Joint Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society," Annals of Internal Medicine Clinical Guidelines, 2 October 2007

Sitthipornvorakul E1, Janwantanakul P, Purepong N, Pensri P, van der Beek AJ. "The association between physical activity and neck and low back pain: a systematic review." Eur Spine J. 2011 May;20(5):677-89. doi: 10.1007/s00586-010-1630-4. Epub 2010 Nov 27.

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