One overlooked exercise could ease the debilitating back pain of 65 million Americans

Anyone with lower back pain knows that it can be a debilitating condition that limits the ability of nearly 65 million Americans to move and participate in daily life.

But new research suggests that simply getting up and walking through the pain is a highly effective way to reduce the pain and get back to a normal life.

Australian researchers tested two groups of people: one group received no treatment and the other was told to walk for 30 minutes five times a week.

After following the participants for one to three years, they found that the group who walked regularly were pain-free for almost twice as long as those who didn’t: 208 days versus 112.

The study, which ran from September 2019 to June 2022, is the first to advocate walking to treat aches and pains.

About 16 million American adults experience chronic back pain, due in part to high rates of inactivity and obesity and an ever-growing population of seniors. While tens of millions of others experience some form of discomfort.

This translates into lost time at work, expensive trips to physiotherapists and reimbursements for exercise classes that require specialist equipment.

The running group was pain-free for 208 days versus 112 days in the control group

Walking prevented people's back pain from recurring

Walking prevented people’s back pain from recurring

But walking is a free intervention, which makes it uniquely attractive – and accessible.

701 people took part in the study, 80 percent of whom were women. All had recently recovered from a bout of severe lower back pain.

One group was assigned three months of zero intervention. But the second group received six sessions of educational lessons with a physiotherapist and were told to build up to walking 30 minutes a day five days a week for three months.

Dr. Mark Hancock. A physiotherapist from Macquarie University, said: ‘The intervention group had less activity-limiting pain compared to the control group, and a longer mean time before recurrence, with a median of 208 days compared to 112 days.’

Participants wore a device that tracked their walking or jogging speed and step count, and they recorded this in a daily walking diary.

The walking group also missed fewer work days and reduced the number of doctor visits related to their pain by half. Walking also improved people’s sleep and mood.

Walking is free and can easily be scaled up.  Unlike other interventions such as exercise classes, it does not require specialist equipment and has numerous heart health benefits

Walking is free and can be easily scaled up. Unlike other interventions such as exercise classes, it does not require specialist equipment and has numerous heart health benefits

Dr. Hancock said: ‘We don’t know exactly why walking is so good for preventing back pain, but it probably involves 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.’

It’s no secret that walking has numerous cardiovascular and other health benefits, but not enough Americans do it.

According to the CDC, less than 47 percent of American adults met federal physical activity guidelines, which recommend getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking every week.

A separate study published in 2012 found less than a quarter of Americans reported walking continuously for more than 10 minutes in an average week.

Aimless walking may seem like a boring and pointless activity, but it improves blood circulation to the muscles, helps control weight, improves metabolism and releases mood-boosting endorphins.

Although it is impossible to determine from the study whether walking was more effective than the educational sessions, researchers believe that ‘the two components complement each other, with education helping to overcome avoidance and fear of exercise, while the health coaching and walking program resulted in behavior change . change.’

Humans evolved from beings with a horizontal spine and have had to adapt over millions of years to carry the majority of body weight and movement pressure through life, with normal wear and tear, injuries, sedentary lifestyles and obesity.

Previous studies have shown the benefits of exercise to relieve back pain, the leading cause of disability worldwide, but they always involved group exercise classes that required close supervision and expensive equipment.

The researchers conclude: ‘This intervention should be relatively easy to scale up and could substantially reduce the burden of low back pain, including reducing the costs associated with care.’

Their research was published in the Lancet.