Written by Boroondara Osteopathy
A well-known clinic in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs founded by Dr Katie Willy (Osteopath)
We have been told for years now that sitting at home on the couch or laying down in bed for days is not going to help with back pain or very slowly at best. The most beneficial thing people can do is get moving. Most back pain is worse when going from prolonged sitting to standing but when we keep ourselves active it usually feels quite good (if we are not overdoing it). Walking has been shown to be effective for reducing and even preventing low back pain long term.
A 2013 Israeli study showed walking was as effective as a six-week specific strengthening exercise program for low back pain. This means walking is the easily most cost-effective thing you could do for lower back issues. As well as helping your back, it counts as normal aerobic exercise which also improves:
That is a lot of bang for your buck! This goes to show that walking is enough to get moving without having to do a rigorous strengthening program.
Most of the research studies suggest increased blood flow and getting nutrients to the soft tissues was the big reasons for healing and decreasing low back pain. When we exercise blood and fluid is pumped around the body after the joints open and close which allows the muscles to contract and relax which pushes and squeezes fluid throughout the body.
Imagine how much more efficient our body could be with blood flow if all our joints were doing their job perfectly and letting the muscles contract and relax to their best ability. This would mean we get blood flowing more easily and therefore we heal better and decrease the likelihood of potentially developing chronic conditions.
Unfortunately, its not quite as easy as it sounds. If another area in the body is setting up the lower back for pain or dysfunction, then it depends on where it is and how that body part is affected by walking. This is a very common part of our work, not just treating where the pain is but finding the underlying cause. New and old injuries can affect the rest of the body. We might find that an old ankle sprain never fully recovered and that has put extra strain through the lower back, after years of taking the extra pressure, the lower back might give out during or after a fairly innocuous movement.
Well, our little spiel on joints in the last paragraph can help explain this as well. When a specific joint or joints do not move well, the way it’s moving or not moving may initiate a pain response. This gives us a chicken-egg situation (what did come first??)
Did the back pain cause the joints to seize up or did the joints cause the back pain?
We can only work with what we find, and if we find that something isn’t moving well (even if its seemingly unrelated like an old ankle sprain), we will re-balance your body to get it going.
It has been shown in studies that we adopt a protective movement strategy when we have low back pain, which is obvious because we are trying to avoid the pain.
The key to reducing the low back pain may be to get moving in a better way.
P. Hendrick, A. M. Te Wake, A. S. Tikkisetty, L. Wulff, C. Yap, and S. Milosavljeviccorresponding author. The effectiveness of walking as an intervention for low back pain: a systematic review. Eur Spine J. 2010 Oct; 19(10): 1613–1620.
Robert J. Gatchel, Academic Editor. A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Healthcare (Basel). 2016 Jun; 4(2): 22.Published online 2016 Apr 25. doi: 10.3390/healthcare4020022
I.Shnayderman, M. Katz-Leurer. An aerobic walking programme versus muscle strengthening programme for chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation, 2012; 27 (3): 207 DOI: