When your lower back pain just won't let go, you will try almost anything to ease the ache. By now, doctors and scientists say just sitting and waiting for the pain to go away is the wrong approach. Heat, massage, and gentle exercise seem to be better suited for treating this somewhat common and frustrating situation.
What about walking?.... backwards.
Some studies have shown that walking backwards on a treadmill can ease lower back pain. According to the Journal of Exercise Physiology, researchers have found the walking backwards increases knee flex and hip extensions, as well as opens the discs in the spine. It also appears to strengthen your core. These things could be the keys to reducing lower back pain. It is also good for folks suffering from hamstring problems and knee pain.
Walking backwards is said to use more energy and burn more calories than walking forward so even while you are rehabilitating, you are still getting in shape.
Of course, getting healthier should also include staying safe. Start slow on the treadmill, almost at the slowest speed with no incline. Hold on to the handrails. Have someone help you turn the machine on, so you can concentrate on finding your rhythm. You don't have to run a marathon of backwards walking (though some have probably tried) but just do enough to loosen your back. In the beginning, aim to go just 5-10 minutes. Remember, your other muscles have to catch up too on this new experience.
When you are finished, ask someone to turn the machine off and slowly wind down to a stop before getting off. Even if you are experienced with exercising on a treadmill, doing it backwards can be disorienting at first and you don't want to fall.
Make sure you talk to your doctor before you being such a treatment. Find out if there are any stretching exercises that should accompany your backwards walking and ask about time and distance.
Lower back pain comes from a variety of sources, both from what we do and how we do it. Overuse, under-use, sleeping wrong, having tight hamstrings or getting a strain from sports or too much yard work can all cause that deep ache. Additionally, structural issues like a herniated disc or spinal stenosis can cause lower back pain.
At the Illinois Back Institute we use Functional Disc Rehydration that includes walking forwards and backwards on a treadmill for lower back pain. We use a mechanical traction system to decompress the spine while the patient is able walk on the treadmill. This allows for the disc to be heightened while promoting blood flow to the area of injury, providing nutrients to the area of injury and decreasing severity of low back pain. Also, the increase in blood flow from the cardiovascular activity will decrease stiffness which is a main contributor to decrease mobility leading to a decrease in one’s ability to participate in their daily activities. Combined with physical therapy, this well-studied treatment helps to strengthen and stabilize the spine. Best of all, it doesn't involve surgery or medication.
While chronic back pain can be frustrating and debilitating, don't give up. This therapy will help you move to a stronger, pain-free life. You may just have to walk there, backwards.