As much as walking can help your body feel better by building cardiovascular endurance by strengthening your heart and lungs and strengthening your legs—some people do find that their lower back hurts when walking.
There are several different potential causes of lower back pain when walking, but the good news is that most of the reasons why your lower back hurts when walking are preventable or treatable.
In this guide, we will discuss common causes of lower back pain when walking and how to prevent it.
We will cover:
- Why Do I Have Lower Back Pain When Walking?
- 6 Causes Of Lower Back Pain When Walking
- How to Treat and Prevent Lower Back Pain When Walking
Let’s jump in!
Why Do I Have Lower Back Pain When Walking?
We tend to think of walking as being a type of exercise that really only uses the legs.
Therefore, it might be more common to have ankle, hip, or knee pain when walking, but walking is actually a total-body activity.
Because the body is upright with the arms and legs moving in a reciprocal pattern, the core muscles—including the abdominal muscles as well as the lower back muscles (erector spinae and multifidus) are activated to support the spine, maintain your posture, and provide a stable base of support upon which your legs and arms can move.
Weakness or injury in the muscles in your lower back or core can elicit lower back pain when walking.
The back also includes many structures other than muscles that make your lower back hurt when walking. Examples include tendons, ligaments, nerves, bones, intervertebral discs, and joints.
Damage or weakness or any of the structures in the lower back can, therefore, potentially trigger lower back pain while walking.
6 Causes Of Lower Back Pain When Walking
#1: Muscular Fatigue
One of the most likely reasons that your lower back hurts when walking is due to muscle fatigue, particularly if you are taking long walks.
The lower back bears most of the weight of the entire trunk and upper body while walking. Particularly if you are overweight or obese, the muscles of the lower back can fatigue due to the constant strain and workload imposed upon them while walking or even just sitting or standing.
In most cases, lower back pain while walking due to muscular fatigue will subside upon rest, particularly if the onset was due to a long-distance walk. However, if you resume sitting or standing with poor posture after walking, you may still experience some amount of low back discomfort.
#2: Pulled Muscles and Tendon Strains
One of the more common causes of low back pain when walking is attributable to a pulled muscle in the lower back or a strain of one of the tendons.
Due to the prevalence of sitting most of the day, poor posture, having weak core muscles and carrying excess weight in the belly, the muscles of the lower back are subject to injury whether from walking, using faulty lifting mechanics, getting in and out of bed or the car and twisting or otherwise pulling a weak muscle.
The tendons can also get strained, as the muscles that help extend and stabilize the lower back connect to the vertebra in a series of very small tendons, which are also subject to weakness due to disuse, poor posture, or excessive lordosis (sway back) from a big belly.
You may also experience a spasm in one of the muscles in the lower back. The causes of back spasms are often similar, but they usually come on with sudden movements, such as being yanked by your dog on a leash or turning quickly with a basket of laundry.
#3: Excessive Lordosis
One of the most common causes of low back pain, in general, is excessive lordosis, which refers to the inward C-shaped curve in your lower back when viewed from the side.
Although some amount of lordosis is part of the normal, healthy curvature of the spine, excessive lordosis, which manifests in what we commonly call a “sway” back, will place excessive pressure on the posterior structures in the spine.
This may pinch nerves or cause pressure, bulging, or pinching of the posterior portion of the intervertebral disc in your low back.
There are different causes of lordosis, but the most common reasons for this excessive curvature are osteoporosis, pregnancy, and obesity.
Osteoporosis causes a degeneration of the height and health of the vertebrae, which can lead to a partial collapse that ultimately alters the curvature of the spine.
In terms of obesity or pregnancy, carrying excessive weight in the belly pulls the center of gravity forward, exaggerating the inward curvature of the lower back.
People who are overweight or obese who find that their lower back hurts when walking may experience some relief with weight loss and/or trying to make a conscious effort of pressing through the lower back with their core muscles to try and straighten out the spine and prevent the sway back posture.
#4: Walking With Poor Posture
Walking in a hunched-over position with poor posture can cause lower back pain when walking.
Poor posture is often a product of having weak core muscles, so making a deliberate effort to strengthen your abs and lower back and walking with proper form and posture can help decrease lower back pain when walking.
Sciatica is a painful condition that results due to inflammation, compression, or damage on or to the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in the body.
The large sciatic nerve spans from its emergence in the spinal cord in your lower back, down through your hips and butt, and then all the way down the back of your legs to your feet.
If you have a bulging disc, pressure on the sciatic nerve due to poor posture or faulty biomechanics, or have an injury or damage to the nerve itself; you may experience lower back pain when walking.
Sciatica pain may or may not extend down beyond the lower back into the butt and legs, depending on the severity of the issue and/or the specific location of the compression or damage.
You may also experience tingling, numbness, burning, weakness, shock-like symptoms, or other signs of radicular pain.
#6: Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a back condition marked by a narrowing of the spine and a narrowing of the spaces in the spine in which the spinal cord and nerves run.
As a result, spinal nerves can become pinched or compressed, leading to low back pain while walking (and sometimes even sitting and resting).
Spinal stenosis is typically a degenerative disorder, so the risk is higher in the elderly as well as those with osteoarthritis of the spine.
With osteoarthritis, there is a decrease in the amount of healthy cartilage coating the vertebrae. This causes excessive rubbing or grinding of the bones of the spine upon one another, which is not only painful but can lead to further degenerative damage because the vertebrae are no longer coated by cartilage and can’t glide smoothly on one another.
With spinal stenosis, in addition to your lower back hurting while walking, you may have some amount of leg pain, depending on the location of the narrowing and the specific nerves involved.
For example, if there is narrowing in the spinal canal by the sciatic nerve, extra pressure on this nerve will cause symptoms of sciatica as described above.
In most cases of spinal stenosis, even though your lower back will hurt when walking, the pain typically decreases with rest.
How to Treat and Prevent Lower Back Pain When Walking
The best way to prevent lower back pain when walking will depend on the particular cause of the pain.
If you have an injury to any of the structures in the back, including the muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs, nerves, bones, or joints, you may need to implement a classic RICE protocol: rest, ice, compression, and elevation, until symptoms subside, depending on the severity of the injury and whether it is an acute or chronic issue.
It is also a good idea to work with your doctor or physical therapist to develop a rehab program to help you get back on your feet and walk pain-free, particularly for more severe injuries or ongoing problems that are not resolved with a conservative approach.
Here are some more tips to help lower back pain:
#1: Walk With Good Form
Make sure that you are trying to walk with proper form and posture. Your spine should be upright and neutral, chest up and proud, shoulders back and down and away from your ears, and head and gaze straight ahead.
Drooping your head and neck down to stare at your phone for an extended period of time will put extra pressure on your spine and can make your low back hurt while walking.
Essentially, try not to slouch or hunch forward or lean too far back. Your spine should be neutral, with a slight trunk lean forward, particularly if you are walking uphill.
#2: Strengthen Your Core
Several of the most common causes of low back pain when walking are at least partially attributable to having weak core muscles. Regularly incorporating core strengthening exercises into your fitness routine is an excellent way to prevent back pain walking.
At least 2 to 3 times per week, perform exercises such as forearm planks, side planks, reverse crunches, bird-dog, superman, dying bug, Russian twist, V-ups or boat pose, and back extensions.
#3: Lose Weight
It’s not necessarily a piece of advice that people want to hear, particularly if you are in search of a quick fix to treat low back pain with walking, but if you are struggling with carrying excess weight, particularly in the abdominal area, losing weight can be one of the most effective ways to decrease back pain.
Walking itself will certainly help you towards that goal, as any amount of physical activity will burn calories, but also focusing on eating a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and perhaps engaging in other, less painful forms of exercise may be optimal.
Depending on your fitness level and the severity of your lower back pain when walking, you might consider adding exercise bike workouts, swimming, the elliptical trainer, or deep water exercise to your routine.
Strength training can also be a great way to burn calories, boost metabolic rate, decrease body fat, and strengthen the muscles in your legs and core, making walking all the more comfortable.
Certain spinal conditions are degenerative, and there may be some amount of inescapable low back pain when walking, but in most cases, working with your doctor or physical therapist to find solutions that make walking more tolerable can be a great step towards enjoying each and every step you take.
For some alternatives to walking for some calorie-burning cardio, check out our low-impact alternatives to running guide.