There’s nothing like a hike in nature to provide feelings of peace, joy, and calm. That is, unless that hike is marred by lower back pain, making the simple activity of walking seem impossible.
Ironically, walking and hiking are actually excellent activities to help strengthen your back and lessen pain, as long as you hike wisely and take precautions to protect your back.
Quite the conundrum, isn’t it? Let’s talk about how hiking can improve your back pain.
Activity helps relieve back pain
When your back really hurts, hiking might seem like a distant dream, and your bed might be calling your name. However, too much bed rest or lack of physical activity can actually lead to more back pain. Exercise helps increase blood flow and helps muscles stretch, strengthen, and relax. That's why walking and hiking are so good for your back.
If you're nursing tender back muscles, get out and hike, but be wise. Take precautions and prepare so that your hike does not cause more injury. It’s all about finding balance.
Here are some tips from UMASS Memorial Health on how to hike while minimizing your lower back pain:
- Strengthen your core muscles. A weak core often causes chronic back pain. Your should do core strengthening exercises at least three times a week.
- Maintain correct posture. This means your chest should lead, and you shouldn’t be hunched over with a backpack. Your pelvis should remain in a neutral position - not tilting more forward or backward.
- Use the right equipment. Don't shop by price for hiking gear, shop by quality. After all, your back health is at stake. See below for our list of recommended hiking accessories.
- Stretch before and after hiking. Without regular stretching, muscles become shorter and tighter, leading to alignment problems, inflammation, and general pain. Loosen them up before you head out the door and again when you return.
Choose the right hiking equipment
For a successful trek, there are three essential pieces of hiking equipment you should choose carefully:
1. A quality backpack
Choosing the right backpack is crucial. As everyone's body is shaped differently, choose a backpack that is lightweight and properly fitted, that straps around your waist, and across your back. A backpack with thicker straps lessens the strain on your shoulders and your spine. Above all, it should be comfortable to wear, as you’ll be hauling gear long distances. Check out this article at Clever Hiker for details about how to choose the right backpack.
2. Walking Poles
According to the Mayo clinic, "Walking poles take some of the load off your lower back, hips and knees, which may be helpful if you have arthritis or back problems.” Walking poles can also help strengthen your upper back, making them essential when it comes to back pain and hiking.
3. Your Hiking Back Support System
A high quality back brace supports your spine properly and keeps it aligned and supported during hiking.
How To Choose the Right Back Brace for Hiking
When hiking, your instinct may be to go with a low budget back brace, but that might not give you the support you need to protect your back and deal with your lower back pain. At the same time, rigid and semi-rigid back braces are designed in such a way as to restrict your movements, making hiking in variable environments more of a challenge, and more uncomfortable.
Most traditional back braces are designed to constrict the muscles in your back and abdomen which reduces muscle conditioning. That constriction also makes it difficult to take deep breaths, which is a definite hazard while hiking.
It’s important that a back brace for hiking flexes and supports your back properly, applies compression where you need it, and allows you to breathe normally so you can effortlessly trek over the hills and through the valleys.