Addressing Lower Back Pain While WalkingBy Estelle Goh
Lower back pain can be a common and debilitating issue that many individuals experience when walking. Whether you enjoy taking leisurely strolls or are an avid walker, dealing with back pain can significantly impact your mobility and overall quality of life.
In this article, we will explore the various risk factors and conditions associated with back pain when walking, as well as effective ways to relieve and address this discomfort.
Risk Factors for Back Pain When Walking
It's common for Singaporean adults to experience lower back pain, with up to 80% affected by this condition. Understanding the risk factors associated with back pain when walking is crucial in addressing and preventing this issue. Several factors can contribute to the development of lower back pain, including the following:
When walking with poor posture, such as slouching or leaning too far forward, the natural alignment of the spine is compromised. This can lead to increased strain on the muscles, ligaments, and discs of the back.
Moreover, poor posture can contribute to muscle imbalances, with some muscles being overused and others being underused. This imbalance can affect the way the body moves while walking, leading to increased stress on the back muscles and potentially causing pain.
Incorrect posture while walking can also put additional stress on the joints of the spine. This stress can lead to wear and tear on the joint surfaces and contribute to the development of back pain.
Excess body weight places a greater load on the spine while walking. This increased mechanical stress can lead to accelerated wear and tear on the spinal structures, including the discs, joints, and muscles, potentially resulting in back pain.
Obesity can also alter the body's biomechanics while walking, leading to changes in posture and gait. These changes can put additional strain on the back and contribute to the development of back pain.
Similarly, carrying excess weight can lead to increased fatigue in the back muscles while walking. This fatigue may result in poor muscle support for the spine, leading to an increased risk of developing back pain.
Stress often leads to increased muscle tension, particularly in the back and neck muscles. This heightened tension can contribute to discomfort and pain while walking, as the muscles are already under strain.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to decreased flexibility in the back and lower body, which can affect the body's ability to move efficiently while walking. This lack of flexibility may result in altered gait patterns or increased stress on the back, potentially causing pain.
Similarly, sitting for long periods of time and lack of physical activity can lead to weakening and deconditioning of the back and core muscles. When these muscles are not adequately engaged, they may struggle to provide the necessary support and stability for the spine during walking, leading to increased susceptibility to back pain.
Lifting Heavy Objects
Improper lifting techniques, such as bending at the waist or twisting while lifting, can place excessive stress on the back and increase the risk of injury. If the back is already under strain from lifting heavy objects, walking can further exacerbate the discomfort or pain.
Lifting heavy objects can also place a significant load on the spine, especially when carrying the weight while walking. This increased load can strain the muscles, ligaments, and discs of the back, potentially leading to discomfort or pain while walking.
Individuals with a history of back injuries may develop altered movement patterns or compensatory mechanisms to avoid aggravating the injured area. These altered patterns can place additional stress on other parts of the back, potentially leading to pain while walking.
Previous injuries can also lead to chronic pain sensitisation, where the nervous system becomes more sensitive to pain signals. This heightened sensitivity can make individuals more susceptible to experiencing back pain while walking, especially if the walking motion aggravates the sensitised area.
Shoes that do not provide adequate support or that alter the natural alignment of the feet can lead to compensatory movements in the ankles, knees, hips, and, ultimately, the spine. This misalignment can contribute to back pain when walking.
Uncomfortable footwear may also lack proper arch support, cushioning, or stability features. This can lead to poor shock absorption while walking, causing increased impact on the spine and potentially leading to back pain.
Sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress can lead to poor spinal alignment during sleep. This misalignment may result in stiffness and discomfort in the back upon waking, potentially impacting walking posture and contributing to back pain while walking.
Discomfort caused by an uncomfortable mattress can also lead to poor sleep quality. Inadequate rest can contribute to increased muscle tension, reduced pain tolerance, and heightened perception of back pain while engaging in physical activities such as walking.
Conditions Associated With Back Pain When Walking
Back pain experienced during walking can be attributed to various underlying conditions. Identifying the specific condition causing the discomfort is essential in determining the most effective treatment plan. Here are some of the conditions associated with back pain when walking, which might be the underlying cause of the pain you're experiencing:
Muscle fatigue refers to a decline in the ability of a muscle to generate force. When specific muscles responsible for spinal support become fatigued, there is a greater load placed on adjacent structures, such as the spinal discs and facet joints. This increased load can lead to heightened susceptibility to back pain during walking.
Prolonged or repetitive walking with fatigued muscles can also lead to delayed recovery, exacerbating muscle fatigue and increasing the likelihood of experiencing back pain during subsequent walking sessions.
Spinal stenosis is a condition characterised by the narrowing of the spinal canal, through which the spinal cord and nerve roots pass. This narrowing can cause the impingement of the spinal cord and spinal nerves, which may cause several issues, including back pain when walking.
When the spinal cord narrows due to spinal stenosis, it can cause back pain when walking due to reduced blood flow to the spinal cord and nerves. This diminished blood flow can contribute to heightened sensitivity to pain signals, making individuals more susceptible to experiencing back pain, particularly during activities such as walking that place increased demand on the spine.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease refers to the progressive damage to the intervertebral discs, often leading to moderate, continuous low back pain and occasional pain flare-ups. For those with this condition, activities involving bending and twisting the spine can exacerbate pain in the lower back, potentially leading to increased discomfort or pain while walking.
Degenerative disc disease may cause neurological symptoms, such as numbness, weakness, or sharp, shooting pains in the buttocks, hips, and/or back of the leg, especially if the disc space collapses enough to pinch a nerve root exiting the spine. This leg pain can impact an individual's ability to walk comfortably.
Hyperlordosis, or accentuated lumbar lordosis, refers to an exaggerated inward curvature of the lower spine. An increase in lordotic angle proportionally increases the shearing strain in the anterior direction, which is associated with poor posture and back pain. This increased angle and stress are thought to be linked with an increased prevalence of low back pain.
Hyperlordosis can lead to an increased anterior tilt of the pelvis, resulting in increased flexion of the hip joints. This altered spinal alignment and pelvic tilt can contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and low back pain.
Sciatica refers to pain of varying degrees, from mild aches to a sharp, burning sensation or excruciating discomfort, that an individual may experience from the lower back through the hips and buttocks and down each leg or along the path of the sciatic nerve.
The hallmark symptom of sciatica is a sharp, shooting pain that radiates from the lower back down the leg. This pain can be exacerbated during walking due to the impact and motion involved, leading to increased discomfort in the back when walking.
In addition to the shooting pain, individuals with sciatica may experience numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected leg. These symptoms can impact an individual's ability to walk comfortably and may contribute to overall back pain while walking.
Sciatica often originates in the lower back and may be accompanied by localised back pain. This back pain can be aggravated during walking, especially if the movement places additional stress on the already affected area of the spine. Lower back pain physiotherapy may help with the severe lower back pain that individuals with this condition experience.
Ways to Relieve Pain In Your Lower Back
When it comes to relieving lower back pain while walking, there are several approaches that can be effective. Implementing lifestyle modifications, practising good walking posture, losing weight, and changing to more comfortable footwear are all simple yet impactful strategies to alleviate discomfort.
Making certain lifestyle modifications can significantly reduce lower back pain when walking. Here are some of the important lifestyle modifications that can help relieve back pain symptoms when walking:
Practice Good Walking Posture
Maintaining proper walking posture is essential in preventing and relieving lower back pain. When walking, it's important to keep your head aligned with your spine, your shoulders relaxed, and your abdomen pulled in slightly.
Additionally, ensure that your back is straight and your stride is comfortable and natural. Avoid slouching or looking down while walking, as this can place unnecessary stress on the lower back.
By practising good walking posture, you can distribute the weight evenly and reduce the strain on your lower back, ultimately minimising pain and discomfort.
Being overweight or obese can significantly contribute to lower back pain when walking. The excess weight places additional pressure on the spine and can lead to the compression of nerves, resulting in pain and discomfort.
Losing weight through a combination of regular exercise and a healthy diet can alleviate this strain and reduce lower back pain. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to create a personalised weight loss plan that is safe and effective for your specific needs.
By shedding excess pounds, you can lighten the load on your lower back, and experience improved comfort while walking.
Change to More Comfortable Footwear
The type of footwear you choose can have a significant impact on your lower back pain when walking. Wearing shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning can help absorb shock and reduce the strain on your lower back.
Opt for shoes with a low heel and a supportive arch, as these features can help maintain proper alignment and reduce stress on the spine. Avoid high heels and unsupportive flats, as they can alter your walking gait and increase the risk of lower back pain.
If necessary, consider using orthotic inserts or custom-made shoe inserts to provide additional support and alleviate discomfort.
In many cases, conservative treatments can effectively relieve lower back pain when walking. These treatments aim to manage pain and improve mobility without the need for invasive procedures. Some commonly utilised conservative treatments include painkillers and muscle relaxants, hot or cold therapy, and physical therapy or physiotherapy.
Painkillers and Muscle Relaxants
Over-the-counter painkillers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help alleviate lower back pain caused by inflammation. Muscle relaxants may also be prescribed by a healthcare professional to reduce muscle spasms and ease discomfort.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Applying heat or cold to the affected area can provide temporary relief from lower back pain when walking.
Heat therapy, such as using a heating pad or taking a warm bath, can help relax back muscles and improve blood flow, reducing pain and stiffness. Cold therapy, on the other hand, can help numb the area and reduce inflammation. This can be achieved by using ice packs or cold compresses.
Physiotherapy for upper back pain and lower back pain is a conservative treatment option that aims to improve strength, flexibility, and mobility while reducing pain.
A qualified physiotherapist from Phoenix Rehab can assess your specific condition and develop a personalised exercise program targeting the muscles supporting the spine. These exercises may include stretching, strengthening, and stabilisation exercises to address any imbalances or weaknesses that contribute to lower back pain.
Physiotherapy for back pain in Singapore can also involve manual therapy techniques, such as massage or manipulation, to alleviate pain and improve overall function.
Minimally Invasive Treatments
In cases where conservative treatments do not provide sufficient relief or if the underlying condition is more severe, minimally invasive treatments may be considered. These procedures are less invasive than surgery and aim to target the specific source of the lower back pain. Some examples of minimally invasive treatments include epidural steroid injections, spinal cord stimulation, and radiofrequency neurotomy.
Epidural Steroid Injection
An epidural steroid injection involves the injection of a corticosteroid medication directly into the epidural space around the spinal nerves. This can help reduce inflammation and alleviate lower back pain. The effects of the injection can be temporary or long-lasting, depending on the individual and the specific condition being treated.
Spinal Cord Stimulation
Spinal cord stimulation is a procedure that involves the implantation of a device near the spinal cord. This device delivers electrical impulses to the nerves, interfering with pain signals and reducing lower back pain. Spinal cord stimulation is generally considered for individuals who have not responded well to other treatments and who experience chronic, severe pain.
Radiofrequency neurotomy, also known as radiofrequency ablation, is a procedure that uses heat to disrupt the nerve signals responsible for transmitting pain. This is achieved by using a specialised needle to deliver radiofrequency energy to the specific nerve or nerves causing lower back pain. Radiofrequency neurotomy can provide long-lasting pain relief, but the effects may vary between individuals.
In severe cases of lower back pain when walking, surgery may be necessary to address the underlying condition causing the discomfort. Surgical procedures can range from minimally invasive techniques to more extensive spinal fusion surgeries. It's important to consult with a spine specialist to determine the most appropriate surgical approach based on the specific condition and individual circumstances.
When to See a Doctor
While many cases of lower back pain when walking can be managed with conservative treatments, there are instances when it is necessary to seek professional medical advice.
If the pain persists or worsens despite self-care measures, or if the chronic pain is accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs, it is recommended to consult with a doctor.
A healthcare professional can perform a thorough evaluation, order diagnostic tests if necessary, and provide appropriate treatment options based on the specific condition and individual needs.
Addressing lower back pain when walking is crucial in maintaining an active and fulfilling lifestyle. It's important to remember that each person's experience with lower back pain is unique, and a personalised approach to treatment is essential for long-term relief.
With the right strategies in place, you can confidently enjoy the benefits of walking while minimising the burden of lower back pain. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalised treatment plan.