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  • Posted June 20, 2024

Walking May Do Wonders for Back Pain, Study Finds

If you've recovered from lower back pain, try walking away from a recurrence.

New research out of Australia shows that folks who started a walking regimen kept recurrent back pain episodes at bay for much longer than people who didn't.

“We don’t know exactly why walking is so good for preventing back pain, 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," said senior study author Mark Hancock. He's a professor of physiotherapy at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Over 800 million people around the world suffer from low back pain, according to background information from the study authors. In 7 of 10 cases, the pain will ease -- only to return later.

Special exercise programs, along with educating patients about back pain, are typically part of standard care aimed at preventing a recurrence.

Hancock's team wondered if plain old walking might help.

"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," he reasoned in a Macquarie news release.

In the new trial, 701 adults who had recently recovered from an episode of low back pain were randomized to either an individualized walking program and six physiotherapist-guided education sessions over six months, or a control group that got neither.

The result: “The intervention group had fewer occurrences of activity-limiting pain compared to the control group, and a longer average period before they had a recurrence, with a median of 208 days compared to 112 days” before a recurrence, Hancock said.

The findings were published June 19 in The Lancet journal.

Study lead author Dr. Natasha Pocovi said that walking's benefits went beyond just the elimination of pain.

“It not only improved people’s quality of life, but it reduced their need both to seek healthcare support and the amount of time taken off work by approximately half,” said Pocovi, who is a postdoctoral fellow at Macquarie.

The walking program was also uncomplicated and cheap.

“The exercise-based interventions to prevent back pain that have been explored previously are typically group-based and need close clinical supervision and expensive equipment, so they are much less accessible to the majority of patients," Pocovi explained.

"And of course, we also know that walking comes with many other health benefits, including cardiovascular health, bone density, healthy weight and improved mental health," Hancock added.

More information

Find out more about treating back pain at USC Keck School of Medicine.

SOURCE: Macquarie University, news release, June 19, 2024

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