Statistically, low back pain is a condition that will affect nearly 90% of people, and it’s both a leading cause of disability and the primary reason patients visit a chiropractor. In addition to manual therapies provided in the office (like spinal manipulation), chronic low back pain patients are generally advised to stay or become more active. This not only aids in the recovery process but can also help reduce the risk of back pain recurrence. Can taking daily walks accomplish this or is a more comprehensive exercise routine required?
The beauty of walking is that it stimulates various senses (visual, olfactory, and aural), activates several muscle groups, increases circulation, opens the airways, and aids in digestion. Best of all, it can be done pretty much anywhere and at very little cost aside from a pair of good shoes.
A 2019 literature review found that for patients with chronic low back pain, walking provided similar benefits as other forms of exercise with respect to pain intensity, disability, quality of life, and fear-avoidance. Interestingly, researchers also observed that adding walking to a more structured exercise program did not lead to greater improvement in any of the previously mentioned categories. However, they noted that additional studies need to be conducted to determine if a specific walking speed or distance or another factor can improve overall outcomes.
These findings correspond to a systematic review conducted three years prior that also reported the effectiveness of walking—particularly on the ground versus a treadmill—compared with other forms of exercise for patients with chronic low back pain. Another systematic review published a year later confirmed that walking can provide both short- and long-term benefits to patients with chronic low back pain for improving both pain and disability.
Bottom line: the data suggests that a daily walk certainly has a place in a multimodal treatment approach for managing chronic back pain. This can also include spinal manipulation, mobilization, and other manual therapies, in addition to physiotherapy modalities, nutritional advice, ergonomics instruction, and more.