Walking 'nearly halves' recurrence of lower back pain, study shows

walking back pain
Walking 'nearly halves' lower back pain recurrenceCristian Blázquez Martínez - Getty Images

Lower back pain is an all-too familiar affliction for many of us, with an estimated 800 million people worldwide experiencing the chronic condition. But according to new Australian research, the simple act of walking could be an accessible way to ease lower back pain in the long-term.

The findings, published in Lancet, determined that people with back pain who walk three to five times a week are pain-free for twice as long as those who don't. Seven in ten people who experience back pain have flare-ups within a year, but walking almost halves the risk of pain reoccurrence.

Although it's unclear why exactly walking is so beneficial for the lower back, Mark Hancock, the study's senior author and professor of physiotherapy at Macquarie University in Australia, said there are a few potential explanations.

'We don’t know exactly why walking is so good for preventing back pain,' Hancock said, 'But it is likely to include the combination of the gentle oscillatory movements, loading and strengthening the spinal structures and muscles, relaxation and stress relief, and release of ‘feel-good’ endorphins.'

You don't need to power walk a 10k every day to reap the benefits, either. Hancock adds, 'The important thing to remember is to start with short walks, then gradually increase the distance and intensity as your fitness increases.'

walking for weight loss uk
walking for weight loss uk

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The study tracked 701 adults for three years, most of whom were women in their 50s who had all experienced back pain. The participants were halved into two control groups—the intervention group was provided with a walking and educational program, while the other participants were assigned no intervention.

An affordable and simple solution

It's not news to many of us that chronic back pain can be an expensive condition. Frequently, relieving pain involves a mixture of lower back stretches, low-impact exercise (such as Pilates), physiotherapy and in more extreme cases, surgery.

Meanwhile, walking is a completely free alternative, or accompaniment, to other treatment that could help with alleviating pain. The study also found that walking reduced time taken off work due to back pain and medical intervention by half. Hancock adds, 'Walking is a low-cost, widely accessible and simple exercise that almost anyone can engage in, regardless of geographic location, age or socio-economic status.'

Natasha Pocovi, postdoctoral fellow at Macquarie and lead study author, said, 'Our study has shown that this effective and accessible means of exercise has the potential to be successfully implemented at a much larger scale than other forms of exercise.'

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