Walking to Improve the Health of your Lower Back and Joints
| EnFuse Institute for Learning
Category: Health & Wellness
Walking is a simple exercise that almost anyone can perform, at any time, and anywhere. Best of all, it’s free! All you need is a supportive pair of sneakers and maybe a few pointers and you are on your way to a successful workout.
In our society, many of us spend large quantities of our days sitting. Studies have shown that sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to increased neck, shoulder and back pain, particularly when we don’t maintain proper posture. As we begin to fatigue, our shoulders round, our heads hang forward, and our thoracic spine curves. We sit on our sacrum, at the base of our spines, instead of on our ischial tuberosity —better known as our “sit bones” — which is designed for the job. This altered posture places irregular stress on normal tissues, joints, and discs which can lead to pain or injury over the course of time.
Whether your long periods of sitting are due to your occupation or your commute to work, or just from staying home to binge-watch your favorite shows, there is no excuse to not make time for a walk during the day.
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. For this article we will specifically focus on the benefits walking has on low back and joint pain.
Lower Back Pain
Walking is a low impact form of exercise that is beneficial in decreasing, as well as avoiding the onset of low back pain. Walking facilitates the circulation of blood, pumps nutrients into soft tissues and assists in draining toxins. Research has shown that walking 30-40 minutes, 3-7 times per week can help one experiencing low back pain maintain their day to day activities. Those who remain sedentary often experience increased back pain due to increased compression on the joints and muscles and lack of nutrition to the joints.
Remaining sedentary reduces blood flow to the joints and muscles leading to increased stiffness which can then cause increased pain as a result. Those with low back pain who do not exercise or walk are more likely to be limited in their functionality compared to those who do exercise.
Exercise is considered a natural pain killer. When exercising, in this case walking, the body stimulates the brain to release serotonin and endorphins which are considered to be the body’s natural pain killers. These “pain killers” make you feel better both physically and mentally and help decrease low back pain as a result.
Not all who experience low back pain may benefit from walking. For those who are sensitive to extension, which means one experiences increased pain when extending their back, walking may increase one’s pain. In this instance water therapy such as aqua jogging or walking may be more beneficial. The buoyancy of the pool reduces compression on lower back allowing for more pain free movement.
As one progresses, the handles on the treadmill can be used to redistribute weight to help unload the spine. 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.
For more on the benefits of walking for the spine, we recommend the piece Exercise Walking for Better Back Health on Spine-Health.com.
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
When beginning a walking program it is important to remember to start off slowly and only perform what is tolerable to your body. Walk at a pace at which you can carry on a conversation comfortably.
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, 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.
In previous articles we have mentioned the importance of drawing in the abdominal muscles to increase core strength as well as avoiding the onset of low back pain. 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 — described in previous articles — may be beneficial in order to avoid the onset of low back pain.
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.
If you begin to experience numbness, tingling, pain that travels down your leg, or a combination of those symptoms, discontinue the walking session and consult with your doctor.
In our next article, we’ll discuss the positive effect of walking on bone health, mood and cardiovascular health.
If you would like help and or guidance developing a hand-tailored fitness program that considers your own unique needs, please contact our team - support@EnFuseFitness.com
We hope that you find this article helpful!
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