A consistent walking program using a treadmill can dramatically reduce or even eliminate low back pain. But if you use a treadmill, there’s a catch.
A report in Clinical Rehabilitation presents conclusions of a walking-study done with participants who had low back pain.
Frequency and Duration of Walking to Effectively Treat Low Back Pain
The program in this study, headed by Dr. Michal Katz-Leurer from Tel Aviv University’s Stanley Steyer School of Health Professions (Sackler Faculty of Medicine), consisted of walking two or three times a week for 20 to 40 minutes at a time.
This walking protocol turned out to be as effective for relieving low back pain as are the typical muscle strengthening exercises that require equipment and often supervision by rehab specialists.
How does walking cure or relieve low back pain?
Few people actually realize that the “core” is involved in walking. I’m a former certified personal trainer, and I’ve told my clients that the core—which is primarily the abdominals and low back—is engaged when one walks.
This is why when some very sedentary people suddenly do a lot of walking, their low back starts aching. These muscles have worked in a way they’re not used to.
Your body doesn’t have to bend in order to engage the core.
However, don’t let the possibility of backache stop you from a regular walking program if you suffer from low back pain.
You may feel some achiness at first, but it will subside sooner than you think as you stick with the program.
It’s like any new exercise to the body; the muscles are adjusting to the new stimulus, and in the process, develop benign aching or soreness. As the muscles get stronger or adapt, they will no longer get sore.
How the Study Was Done
Twenty-six people completed a muscle exercise program, and 26 others completed a walking program.
All participants had low back pain, and both programs lasted six weeks.
At the end of six weeks, both groups had great improvement in their condition.
How to Properly Use a Treadmill to Alleviate Back Pain
In order for walking to effectively treat low back pain, it must be done with correct biomechanics.
This means if you use a treadmill, DO NOT HOLD ON — other than for momentary steadying such as when drinking water.
Otherwise, when your hands are latched onto the sides or front, even lightly, this disrupts the natural gait pattern and can make low back pain worse, as well as cause new pains elsewhere in the body, such as in the hips, knees and feet.
If your back hurts more upon walking on a treadmill, this is because your lumbar muscles are being engaged. This achiness will especially occur if you use an incline without holding on.
This is because when you walk on a slope or incline, without holding on, your lower back muscles work to prevent you from falling backwards!
If you hold on, this will relieve the soreness or aching, but holding onto the treadmill is WRONG!
Keep walking without holding on, and that aching in your low back will vanish. Give those weak, out of shape muscles a chance to get strong and reliable!
Use a SLOW pace and medium to low incline. There is no need to crank the machine up to 15 percent and run the tread at 4 mph, which is too difficult to sustain a walk without holding on.
But holding onto a treadmill at ANY setting will cheat your low back from the work it needs to help prevent or eliminate pains and aches.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.