Walking is often recommended as good exercise for people recovering from low back pain (LBP). But doctors are not sure how LBP affects walking. This research tried to shed some light on the mechanics of walking in people with LBP.
These authors tested people with acute LBP (LBP that had just come on within the past week) and people with healthy backs. Researchers used reflective markers and video cameras to track the movement of subjects' hips and bodies while they walked on a treadmill. Researchers also measured stride length. First the subjects walked at whatever pace felt comfortable to them. Then they walked at a pace 40 percent faster. People with LBP did the same tests again six weeks later, when their back problems had resolved.
The group with active LBP walked differently. They took shorter strides and had less movement in their hips and bodies while they walked. The authors felt that they were trying to avoid pain. Subjects with LBP actually reported significantly less pain after walking at speeds they chose. Their pain levels stayed about the same even as they walked faster and were forced to take longer strides and use their hips and bodies more actively.
The authors conclude that walking can be an effective way for people with LBP to stay active. They recommend further research to understand how speed and stride affect the back. They also suggest that walking tests might be useful in diagnosing back problems, since walking can make certain back conditions more painful and yet seemed to lessen pain in these patients, whose LBP resolved in six weeks.
Nicholas F. Taylor, et al. The Effect of Walking Faster on People with Acute Low Back Pain. In European Spine Journal. April 2003. Vol. 12. No. 2. Pp. 166-172.