Walking: improving your lower back and joint health
Walking is a simple exercise that almost anyone can do at any time, anywhere. Best of all, it’s free!
Many of us sit for large spans of time. Sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to increased neck, shoulder and back pain, especially when we don’t maintain proper posture. Altered posture places irregular stress on normal tissues, joints, and discs - all of which can lead to pain or injury over time.
Research has shown that walking for a half hour or greater, three to four times a week, helps decrease low back and joint pain, improve mood, strengthen muscles and bones and improve overall cardiovascular fitness.
Lower back pain
Walking is a low impact form of exercise and helps decrease chances of lower back pain. Walking helps circulate blood, pump nutrients into soft tissues, and assists in draining toxins.
Alternatively, remaining sedentary reduces blood flow to the joints and muscles leading to increased stiffness and possible pain.
Walking is not a one-size-fits-all cure
Those who are sensitive to extension, meaning one experiences increased pain when extending their back, walking may increase one’s pain. For these groups, water therapy such as aqua jogging may be more beneficial. The buoyancy of the pool reduces compression on lower back allowing for more pain free movement.
Tip: if you’re an indoor walker, you can use the handles on the treadmill to redistribute your weight so it reduces the load on your spine. To do this correctly, while standing upright and maintaining proper posture, push through your arms so that your body weight is distributed evenly taking pressure off of the spine as you walk. This should feel as if your lower body is now lighter and that the segments in the spine are separating.
Walking helps to supply nutrition to the joints, allowing for pain free motion. A majority of joint cartilage has no direct form of blood supply and gets its nutrition from synovial fluid, which circulates within the joint as we move. Compression from walking squishes the cartilage, like wringing out a sponge, and brings oxygen and nutrients into the area. Without movement, the joints are not supplied with the nutrition, which can lead to deterioration, pain and stiffness.
Proper Walking Form
Everyone’s walking form is different, but there are some specific pointers that should be followed in order to avoid the risk of injury, protect the back, and avoid compensation of other muscles.
Head and Shoulders
The head should be kept upright and centered between the shoulders, with eyes should be focused ahead. Shoulders should be relaxed and slightly retracted. Avoid slouching forward! It places increased stress on the scapular muscles as well as the posterior neck muscles and can lead to headaches if performed for prolonged periods of time.
When walking, it is important to stand fully upright and draw in the core slightly. This helps with supporting the trunk and the spine.
The majority of our forward motion begins at the hips. If your hips feel tight as you are walking, the hip flexor stretch may be beneficial in order to avoid the onset of low back pain. Don’t know that stretch? Talk to our trainers!
Arms and hands
Arms should be close to the body with elbows bent to approximately 90 degrees. Arms should be moving while walking, swinging front to back in pace with the stride of the opposite leg. Hands should be relaxed.
Land heel to toe, and push off with your toes.