Heal Back Pain with Hiking

There is no pain like backpain.

Likewise sometimes the best paths to healing are counter-intuitive . . . active exercise.

In a previous post, we looked at how trekking poles can help reduce backpain.

But does hiking as an activity actually heal the pain?

In the European Spine Journal, 1, a review of studies and tests found that Lower Back Pain is moderately improved with walking, specifically uphill. This is where trail hiking comes into play. The added stress and pressure from an incline does facilitate faster recovery. Although not fully conclusive, it is found that hiking in safe appropriate environments leads to accelerated recovery in the lower spine.

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Support tools like strong shoes, and walking poles can help, but the key is to have graduated pedi-stress (increasing difficulty through incline and trail diversity).

 

However, running, and very steep hiking, is not good. It actually can cause back pain, because as you go uphill, your body tends to lean forward to keep the center of gravity in line. This causes your lower back muscles to work too hard. Remember, you want them to work, to repair and heal. But too hard of work, and it will reverse the healing process. 2.

 

From an anatomy point-of-view, muscles in your back stretch and work when they are exposed to small amounts of complexity in your body movement. This can happen through moderate hiking.

What if my doctor prescribes me not to hike? There are several risk factors with hiking while having back pain. If the pain is originating inside the spine, likely hiking won't do much. Also if there is healing that is taking place in the bones or disks, that requires rested position or gentle movement, you are going to want to avoid hiking. Either way, talk with your doctor first.

Consider these helpful rules of thumb:

  • Keep it slow
  • Use support (shoes, poles, braces if needed)
  • Keep it low (low incline)
  • Make it short (less than an hour)

Following these, may allow your back to be exposed to enough movement and muscle tear for productive healing, but preventing further injury from overexertion. 

 Finally, stretches, combined with low to moderate incline hiking, can make for better healing. Helpful stretches for healing lower back pain is below. 3.

 

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Mike Cutler is an hiker and product tester for EarthTrek Gear. He lives with his family in Reno Nevada, near California's Sierra Nevada Mountain range. He enjoys exploring new trails, and world travel.

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1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2989236/

2. http://stretchman.com/2019/08/22/hill-running-and-low-back-pain/

3. https://www.mdedge.com/obgyn/article/51246/exercises-chronic-conditions-lumbar-stenosis-exercise-rx

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