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Hiking and back pain

By Gemma Newell Oct 10 2012 | 4.09 PM

There can often be nothing better than heading out into the mountains for some exercise and fresh air, so it's important not to let your back pain ruin an enjoyable long walk.


The following tips should help you prepare your body appropriately so it leaves only the British weather to blame if things don't work out well:


Before heading out


  • Pace yourself - instead of heading out for your first hike on a 10 mile mountain circuit, allow your body time to adjust by increasing the distances and the difficulty in terrain gradually.


  • It is a good idea to perform some strengthening exercises starting about 6 weeks before you head out on long challenging walks:


- The gluteal (buttock muscles) are vital to support your lower back and are important to help you climb those hills.  See previous articles describing glut-strengthening exercises - e.g bridge and clam.


- Also strengthening the quadriceps will make the hill descents much more tolerable - performing wall squats, sit to stand or single leg squat exercises will help build these muscles.



On the day


  • Ensure you wear appropriate comfortable shoes.  You need to ensure you have enough arch support and that the shoes offer you enough protection against uneven terrain.


  • If you plan to carry a backpack make sure you pack light.  Whether it is a day bag or a full backpack make sure you only take the bare essentials.  Also make sure the weight of the bag is appropriately placed between your sternum (breast bone) and your pelvic area.


  • Using walking poles might help relieve load through your lower back especially on those high climbs.


  • Think about your posture when you're walking - make sure you don't let your head drop forward too much as this will add a lot of strain to the neck and back muscles; similar to looking down at a computer screen all day.  Keep tall with your head over your shoulders and don't lean forward too much especially on the hills.  If you have a diagnosis of spinal stenosis however, the pressure on nerves in the lower back can be relieved by leaning forward. Keep trying to focus on using your legs as much as possible.


  • If you feel yourself getting tension in your neck and shoulders try performing a few shoulder rolls every 30 minutes to help relax them.


  • Wearing a heat pack like the ThermaCare heat wrap whilst on the move will also make sure your lower back muscles stay warm and may provide relief to any pain you might feel.




If your back pain continues to stop you achieving the hiking distances you want then it is advised to see a physiotherapist for a full assessment.  They will then be able to provide you with specific advice to help get you back to climbing to the top of those mountains!

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