The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us using our homes as a virtual office and school. For some of us, the pandemic has interrupted or made us afraid to continue our exercise routines. Staying active during the pandemic is important for your overall health, including your spine. Walking in your neighborhood, at the Beltline or at your favorite park may be just what you need to help avoid or decrease your neck and back pain while getting some fresh air to help improve your overall mental health.
Benefits of Walking
Weight Control: Walking as part of an exercise routine can assist in maintaining an optimal weight. Overweight individuals are more likely to experience low back pain as the extra weight stresses the spine, and in return, can increase the likelihood of injury.
Improving Flexibility and Posture: Stretching is important before beginning your walking routine. Walking combined with stretching promotes flexibility and improves range of motion and also helps prevent injury to your muscles.
Conditioning Your Core Muscles: Core strengthening is one of the secrets to controlling lower back pain. Walking is an easy way to strengthen your deep spine, torso and abdominal (core) muscles. Keeping your body erect and propelling forward during walking also helps promote hip, thigh and leg muscular strength.
Preventing Osteoporosis: Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, can assist in the prevention of osteoporosis by building and maintaining bone mass. Improving bone mass (density) in turn safeguards against spine fractures and other fractures common to osteoporosis.
Nourishment for Spinal Structures: Circulation is key to proper nutrition for the structures of the spine. Walking assists in providing adequate circulation to the spine, especially the discs and soft tissues.
Stretching before you begin walking is an important part of the routine. It assists in preparing your joints and muscles for the motion necessary for walking.
• Stretching should be gentle, not forced.
• Keep the first 5 minutes of your walk at a slow pace. This allows your muscles to warm up slowly, helping to prevent injuries.
• Bending forward while walking should be done with caution. It can cause increased pain for some spinal conditions.
• Talk with your physician or physical therapist about your stretching routine. He or she can assist you in performing the proper exercises that are safe for your low back condition or pain.
Principles for Walking
It is important to maximize your benefits for exercise walking. The following principles are an important part to consider for your walking routine:
• Walk briskly: After your 5 minute warm-up, set a brisk pace for your walk. While it is important to maintain a brisk pace, you should always be able to carry on a conversation while walking. If you find yourself unable to talk with your walking partner or experience shortness of breath, you should decrease your walking pace.
• Start slowly and gradually increase your walking distance. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes
of physical activity at least 5 days a week to decrease your risk of heart disease. This includes walking. While your goal is 30 minutes per day, remember to start out slowly and listen to your body. A good rule of thumb is to start with a 5-minute walk and increase it by 5 minutes every few days.
• In order to get the most benefit from your walking, you must maintain proper form. The following tips will assist you in maximizing the benefit from walking and protecting your back to prevent injury:
• Keep your head centered between your shoulders. Avoid slouching forward. Always keep your eyes focused straight ahead of you.
• Use your abdominal muscles to support your upper body and assist in keeping your spine in proper alignment. To do this, you may want to breathe in slightly and stand with your back straight.
• Walk with a natural stride, one that is neither too long nor too short.
• Keep your arms close to your body and in motion while you walk. Your arms should stay close to your body, with your elbows
bent in a 90-degree angle. Swing your arm front and back in pace with the stride of the opposite leg. Try to keep the motion relaxed, and avoid clenching your hands.
• Step carefully! As you take each step, land gently on your foot, walking from the heel to the front of your foot.
• Wear comfortable shoes with adequate tread and socks that fit properly.
When Using a Treadmill
If you are walking on a treadmill, use the above guidelines. Try to avoid using the handrails as much as possible, except as needed to maintain your balance.
The Final Word
Exercise walking is a safe, effective way for many people to be active during the ongoing pandemic. It helps people decrease their risk of low back pain. In addition, it provides an effective way for people with low back pain to stay active and each person can walk at his or her own pace. Please check with your physician before starting your walking program. Your doctor will assist you in determining the level of activity that is safe for you.
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