Dr. Jeffrey I. Kennis,  D.C.
205 Commercial St.
Boston, MA 02109
NORTH END

( 617)720-2329


 

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Walking is relatively easy to do and one of the most overlooked ways that you can help relieve and prevent future flareups of lower back pain.

Two specific and direct benefits of adding a regular walking routine to your lower back treatment program are highlighted below.

Walking Tips to Avoid Sciatica

Video: 2 Walking Tips to Avoid Sciatica Pain

Walking with proper technique can help lessen sciatica and lower back pain. Watch Now 

1. Walking strengthens the muscles that support your spine

Your trunk, core, and lumbar (lower back) muscles play a vital role in maintaining the stability and movement of your lower back. These muscles can become deconditioned and weak from a sedentary lifestyle, causing malalignment of the spine. Over a period of time, there may be an increase in muscular weakness, fatigue, injury, and pain.1 The overall mass of your spinal muscles may also reduce.1,2

When you walk, the health of your back muscles is improved in the following ways1:

  • Increases blood flow. Decreased physical activity can cause the small blood vessels of your spine to become constricted, reducing blood flow to the spinal muscles. Walking helps open up the blood vessels, increasing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to these muscles.
  • Flushes out toxins. Muscles produce physiologic toxins when they contract and expand. Over time, these toxins can accumulate within the lower back muscle tissues and cause stiffness. Walking helps flush out these toxins and improve flexibility.

These factors combine to help build strength in the muscles of your lower back, adding to the strength and integrity of your lower back.

See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health

2. Walking increases flexibility in your lower back

Lack of physical activity can cause the muscles and joints in your lower back and hips to become stiff. This stiffness creates increased pressure on the lumbar spine (lower back), altering its normal curvature.3

Walking increases your flexibility by stretching the muscles and ligaments in the back, legs, and buttocks. When you walk, specific muscles, such as your hamstrings, erector muscles of the spine, and hip flexor muscles are activated and stretched. The flexibility of your spinal ligaments and tendons is also increased, improving the overall range of motion in your lower back.3

See Techniques for Effective Exercise Walking

Additional health benefits of walking
While walking can help improve function in your lower back, it also has other health benefits. Committing to a regular walking program may help4,5:

  • Reduce and/or maintain an optimal weight
  • Keep blood pressure under control
  • Improve the levels of total cholesterol
  • Decrease anxiety and depression
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease and dementia

Walking also helps increase the production of endorphins (natural pain-inhibiting hormone), decreasing the overall perception of pain.6

Watch Video: 4 Little-Known Natural Pain Relievers

Tips to prevent lower back pain while walking

Your walking-pace and duration depend on your level of tolerance. Follow these tips if you have chronic lower back pain:

  • Start with a short, 5 to 10-minute walk every day and gradually work your way up. You may also use a treadmill or an elliptical machine based on your preference.
  • If regular walking is painful, try walking in a shallow pool. The buoyancy of water may provide enough relief to allow you to complete your walking exercise.
  • Always use correct posture while walking by keeping your spine naturally curved. Your shoulders must be relaxed with your head balanced on top of your spine (and not flexed forward).

See Easy Exercise Program for Low Back Pain Relief

The key to any walking program is to start right away. Regular walking can have immediate as well as long-term effects in improving the health of your lower back tissues, restoring function, and preventing pain.

Learn more:

Exercise and Back Pain

Stretching for Back Pain Relief

If you suffer from chronic pain, it's important that your friends and family know what you're going through. With this in mind, here are 5 things to know about chronic pain that you can share with your loved ones:

See Chronic Pain As a Disease: Why Does It Still Hurt?

physical therapist examining patient's lower back

Your chronic pain may not be directly tied to an injury or underlying condition.
Read:
 Modern Theories of Chronic Pain

1. Chronic pain is real

People with chronic pain are often treated as if they are making up (or at least exaggerating) their pain. But the truth is that all pain is real, even if there is no known cause. Additionally, almost all people with chronic pain want nothing more than to be pain-free.

See Types of Back Pain: Acute Pain, Chronic Pain, and Neuropathic Pain

So what your friend or family member needs from you is your support and kindness, not condemnation. Statements like "Get over it" or "It can't be that bad" don't accomplish anything other than to discourage those with chronic pain.

Thankfully, there is an increasing consensus in the medical community that all chronic pain is real, and that it needs to be treated even if there is no known cause.

See Modern Theories of Chronic Pain

 

2. Chronic pain commonly leads to disuse syndrome

Chronic pain often leads to long-term lack of physical activity and a condition recognized as disuse syndrome. This syndrome can negatively impact your musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, neurological, psychological, and emotional processes. At its worst, disuse syndrome leads to a pervasive lack of wellness that in and of itself can be debilitating.

Of note, disuse syndrome can both perpetuate and increase the likelihood of chronic pain worsening over time.

See Pain Management for Chronic Back Pain

3. Chronic pain commonly leads to sleep-related problems

Chronic pain can create a troubling cycle when it comes to sleep. That is, chronic pain can make it harder to sleep, and in turn a lack of sleep can make chronic pain worse.

See Addressing Pain and Medical Problems Disrupting Sleep

Common sleep-related problems caused by chronic pain include an inability to fall asleep, constantly waking up at night, and not feeling refreshed upon waking up in the morning. Because of the close connection between sleep problems and chronic pain, the two need to be treated together.

See Chronic Pain and Insomnia: Breaking the Cycle

4. Pain is deeply personal

Everyone persons experience of pain is different. For example, two people may have the same condition, and one may display no ill-effects, while the other may be incapacitated. When it comes to back pain, this is especially true. Two people can have the same type of herniated disc, but one feels only slight discomfort and the other feels burning, debilitating sciatic pain.

See Diagnosing Disc Problems

There are a number of possible reasons for this, including individual physiology, a person's upbringing, etc.

See Pain Signals to the Brain from the Spine

5. Happiness does not equal health

Often times, when a person with chronic pain is smiling or having a "good day," people assume that the person is not experiencing pain. However, this is not necessarily the case.

11 Chronic Pain Control Techniques

It is important to recognize that a person can be happy and at the same time be experiencing pain. So be careful to not assume that a friend or loved one is "healed" simply because they seem to be enjoying themselves.

The bottom line

There are so many secondary and related issues that accompany chronic pain that it would be a real challenge to address them all. This list is intended to at least get the conversation started—and for anyone living with any type of chronic pain, please pass this along to your loved ones to help them better understand and support you.

All About Neuropathy And Chronic Back Pain

If you have chronic pain, your may also find it does you a world of good to have increased emotional support, more effective and sustainable pain management, and even possibly harnessing the power of your mind to assist in coping with the pain.

Pain Management for Chronic Back Pain

Learn more:

Chronic Pain Coping Techniques - Pain Management

When Acute Pain Becomes Chronic Pain

When upper back or shoulder pain is accompanied by numbness in the arm, it can stem from a problem in the neck or shoulder that inflames a nerve going down the arm. Some people may have worsening upper back pain and arm numbness as the day goes on, whereas others may experience worse symptoms when waking up in the morning. Here are 6 potential causes.

Cervical herniated disc

A cervical herniated disc may cause numbness and weakness in the arm. Watch: Cervical Herniated Disc Video

Cervical herniated disc

When a cervical disc herniates, inflammatory proteins can leak out of the disc and inflame nearby muscles, joints, and/or nerve roots. If a cervical nerve root becomes inflamed, radicular pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness may go down into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand. Especially if a disc herniates in the lower cervical spine, pain may be felt in the shoulder blade area with some numbness that could go into the arm or hand.

See Cervical Radiculopathy from a Herniated Cervical Disc

 

Foraminal stenosis

When the intervertebral foramen narrows between adjacent vertebrae, called foraminal stenosis, a nerve root can become impinged while exiting from the spinal canal. Foraminal stenosis can be caused by bone spurs (osteophytes) or other spinal degenerative processes. If the nerve root in the lower cervical spine becomes pinched or inflamed, it can potentially cause pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in the shoulder, arm, hand, and/or fingers.

See Cervical Foraminal Stenosis

Stinger

A stinger typically results from trauma to the neck or shoulder, such as during a sports collision or fall. When the brachial plexus (a group of nerves that run through the shoulder and down the arm) becomes overstretched during a collision, a stinger injury can cause burning pain that starts in the neck or shoulder and goes down the arm. It may also be accompanied by some numbness or weakness in the arm or hand. While stingers usually only last a few seconds or minutes, they sometimes last days or longer.

Read more about Stinger Injuries on Sports-health.com

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) occurs when the nerves or blood vessels become compressed in the thoracic outlet, which is the area between the top rib and collarbone. This rare condition can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness anywhere from the neck and shoulder down into the arm and hand. So it’s possible for someone with TOS to feel pain in the shoulder and numbness in the arm. Performing overhead work may exacerbate shoulder pain and arm numbness/weakness. The arm and hand may also become more easily fatigued during routine activities.

See Neck Pain from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Brachial neuritis

Brachial neuritis, also called Parsonage-Turner syndrome, develops when at least a part of the brachial plexus (a group of nerves that run through the shoulder and down the arm) becomes inflamed. This condition typically has sudden onset unrelated to an injury, and it can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness anywhere along the nerve pathways from the neck, upper back, shoulder, and down into the arm and hand. Brachial neuritis typically lasts anywhere from a few hours to a few days. In rare cases, it can last much longer or become permanent.

See Brachial Neuritis (Parsonage-Turner Syndrome)

 

Stress

It is well established that stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other psychological conditions can create physical symptoms that can mimic the above conditions. It is always important to consider stress as a possible source for symptoms including upper back pain and associated arm numbness.

See Stress-Related Back Pain

Any type of pain that is accompanied by numbness or weakness requires a visit to the doctor. Getting an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional can help determine the most effective treatment for relief and recovery.

See The Diagnosis of Stress-Related Back Pain

Learn more

What Causes Hand Pain and Numbness?

Could That Shoulder Pain Really Stem From the Neck?

Cold and heat therapy may both provide effective relief from your lower back pain—but how do you know which one to use?

See Heat Therapy Cold Therapy

heat or ice for lower back pain

Many lower back problems can lead to painful muscle spasms. See Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Read on for helpful advice on deciding whether you should use ice or heat to treat your lower back pain.

See Early Treatments for Lower Back Pain

 

As a general rule, it is best to apply cold therapy to your lower back in the first 24 to 72 hours following your lower back injury. The application of cold therapy can minimize your inflammation and swelling—which in turn may reduce your pain. In addition, ice can decrease your tissue damage and numb your sore tissues.

See Ice Packs for Back Pain Relief

There are numerous options for cold therapy, including a frozen bag of vegetables, frozen gel packs, and a frozen towel. Regardless of which option you choose, make sure to note the following precautions:

  • To avoid ice burn, place a cloth between your skin and whichever source of cold you select.
  • Apply cold therapy for no more than 20 minutes at a time. You can apply cold therapy 8 to 10 times per 24 hour period.

Watch: Video: How to Make 5 Quick and Easy Ice Packs

Use heat to encourage healing

After your initial swelling and inflammation has subsided, heat therapy can be utilized to encourage healing in your lower back. The application of heat therapy stimulates blood flow to the area, which brings restorative oxygen and nutrients. Additionally, heat can inhibit the transmission of pain signals to your brain and decrease your stiffness.

See How to Apply Heat Therapy

There are two basic categories for heat therapy: dry and moist. Dry heat may leave your skin feeling dehydrated, but many people feel it is easier to apply. Heat therapy may be more difficult to apply, but it can aid in the penetration of heat into your muscles.

Watch: Video: How to Make a Moist Heat Pack

If you have diabetes, an open wound, or dermatitis it is best to avoid heat therapy altogether.

 

What about chronic lower back pain?

All of the above advice addresses when to use heat and ice following the first occurrence of lower back pain after an injury. But what about chronic lower back pain?

See Types of Back Pain: Acute Pain, Chronic Pain, and Neuropathic Pain

The simple answer is that there is no right answer. Finding the balance between cold and heat therapy for chronic lower back pain is a process of trial and error—and what might work for one patient may not for another. But when it comes to exercise, many people with chronic back pain find heat therapy helps to warm up their muscles beforehand, while cold therapy helps with pain and inflammation afterwards.

See Heat Wrap Therapy Can Reduce Post-Exercise Low Back Pain

Additionally, if you do suffer from extended or chronic lower back pain make sure to receive care from a qualified medical professional. Relying on self-care for too long may make your back pain worse.

See Pain Management for Chronic Back Pain

I hope all of the above advice will help you determine if cold or heat therapy is right for you, which in turn may help you find meaningful relief from your lower back pain.

Learn more:

How to Use Ice Massage Therapy for Back Pain

Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain

Yoga is a low-impact, effective way to relax tight muscles and build strength—which can help relieve lower back pain. Try these 3 beginner-level poses and see if you find relief. Remember to take it slow and stop if the pain gets worse.

Image of a yoga class doing the seated prayer pose

Yoga can help to strengthen and strech the lower back muscles, alleviating tension and pain.
Read
 How Yoga Helps the Back

Sphinx pose

The sphinx pose puts your lower back muscles in a more relaxed position and is sometimes recommended for people who have sciatica pain from a herniated disc. You need to lie on the ground, so use a yoga mat or thick towel.

  1. Lie flat on your stomach with your legs straight. Keep your forearms on the ground next to you, tucked in close to your sides.
  2. On an inhale, tighten your legs and raise your chest off the ground by pushing with your arms. Your forearms and palms should stay on the ground.
  3. Your hips, legs, and feet should maintain contact with the ground, and your elbows should be aligned directly under your shoulders.
  4. Hold this pose for 5 seconds, then gently lower your torso back to the ground.

See Exercise for Sciatica from a Herniated Disc

Repeat this pose as you are comfortable. Gradually work your way up to 30 seconds per repetition.

 

Cat/cow pose

Illustration of the cat and cow yoga pose for lower back pain

Cat and cow are 2 different yoga poses, but they are typically practiced together. Here’s how to do them:

  1. Start on your hands and knees. Align your arms straight under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Look at the floor, keeping your head straight in line with your torso and spine.

Move into the cat pose:

  1. Round your back, lifting your spine toward the ceiling.
  2. Your eyes will face your belly.

After a breath, move into the cow pose:

  1. Slowly lift your chest and tailbone toward the ceiling, letting your stomach sink toward the ground.
  2. Your eyes will look up toward the ceiling.
  3. After another breath, gently return to the cat pose.
  4. Repeat these motions a few times or until you feel adequately stretched.

Together, these poses form a gentle yet effective stretch for your lower back.

See Healing Benefits of Yoga

Modified down dog pose

Downward-facing dog is a popular yoga pose, but it can be difficult to perform, especially for people with painful hand or wrist conditions. Here’s a modified version that may be gentler on the body:

  1. Stand and face a wall. Place your hands on the wall between waist and chest level. Set your feet hips-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and slowly walk away from the wall, keeping your hips over your feet and your hands pressed against the wall.
  3. Stop in place once your arms form a straight line with your spine, keeping your back as flat as possible.
  4. You should feel a stretch through your back.
  5. Hold this pose for 30 seconds, then slowly walk forward to come out of the pose.

This pose helps lengthen your back muscles.

See Pulled Back Muscle and Lower Back Strain

Not all of these yoga poses may ease your lower back pain, so experiment and see which ones work best for you. If any of these poses worsen your pain, talk to your doctor immediately.

Learn more:

Stretching for Back Pain Relief

Pilates Exercise and Back Pain





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