Walking found to provide significant relief from back pain

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Many years ago I had a friend who, like quite a lot of people, suffered from chronic (long-term) low back pain. Sometimes, his back would ‘flare up’ and incapacitate him for several days at a time. He tried a load of treatments for his back including manipulations and acupuncture. In the end, it was his experience that the thing that made the most difference and kept his back problems largely at bay was a daily walk. In the days that I ran regularly, I would sometimes run past my friend while he enjoyed his daily constitutional. It was ironic that while my friend’s walking seemed to do his back no end of good, my back was invariably sore and stiff after a run to the extent that I was usually unable to bend down to untie my running shoe laces.

I thought about my friend this week while reading about a study in which individuals with back pain were randomised to one of two treatments:

1. back muscle strengthening exercises using specialised equipment

2. walking for 20 – 40 minutes

In both groups, frequency of exercise session was 2-3 times a week, and the whole programme lasted for 6 weeks.

Individuals were assessed in a number of ways before and after the interventions, including a 6-minute walking test (distance covered in 6 minutes of walking), back and abdominal muscle endurance tests, measures of disability and low back pain.

All measures improved significantly in both groups, with no significant difference between the groups (meaning, in essence, that the interventions were equally effective).

Perhaps a couple of years after stopping running (as a result of a seemingly endless stream of running injuries) I began walking regularly and never looked back. I usually plan to incorporate walking within my normal day. For example, I went to dinner last night here in London. I could have changed underground trains and got off at a stop very close to the restaurant. But I elected to take one line on the underground instead, which ‘forced’ me to walk for 20 minutes to the restaurant (and 20 minutes back again on the way home).

One of the great things about walking is that almost all people can do it and have access to this form of activity. Also, no special garb or equipment is required. I do, though, generally make a point of wearing shoes that are rubber soled and comfortable.


1. Shnayderman 1, et al. An aerobic walking programme versus muscle strengthening programme for chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation, 2012;27 (3): 207 DOI: 10.1177/0269215512453353[hr]

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