Walking for Back Pain - Is it worth the effort?

Published: 21st May 2020

Hi, my name is Shane Derbyshire. I am a Chiropractor practicing in Norwich and I wish to make the argument that walking may be one of the best things you could do if you have stubborn back pain.

In this article you will learn:

  1. What the scientific evidence tells us about the benefits of walking for back pain.
  2. Why walking may be a more sustainable intervention for back pain compared to other commonly used methods.
  3. Why walking creates physical AND mental benefits and why this is relevant for back pain.

Let’s begin.

Don’t take my word for it - trust the science.

There has been quite a lot of high quality research in recent years on the benefits that walking may have for back pain- specifically chronic (long term) lower back pain.

What has been found? Let me explain.

“Walking improves disability status, function and quality of life in adults with chronic low back pain.”

A study from 2015 that reviewed a total of 7 previous studies and involved a total of 869 patients. They found that walking is as effective as other interventions (like specific strength exercises and supervised exercise classes) at improving disability, function and quality of life in those who have persistent lower back pain.

“Walking, which is easy to perform and highly accessible, can be recommended in the management of chronic LBP to reduce pain and disability.”

A study from 2017 reviewed a total of 9 previous studies and had findings similar to the 2015 review- that walking is just as effective as other interventions commonly used. They made not of the fact that walking is easy to perform and highly accessible- which is extremely important when choosing an active intervention to treat chronic problems.

“Walking may be considered as an alternative to other physical activity in the management of lower back pain”

Another study from 2017 reviewed a total of 5 previous studies and showed that walking was clearly an effective intervention for chronic lower back pain and recommends that it be considered as an option for rehabilitation.

Boring core exercises? Or a nourishing walk? Take your pick.

The science has spoken. Walking has benefits and is an effective tool for managing chronic lower back pain AND it is just as effective as other commonly used interventions like core exercises or supervised rehabilitation.

So now the question is - why choose walking?

The simple answer is - it is less boring.

I can tell you from my own experience that the best type of intervention for any problem is one that gets done!

When I was first starting out as an overly optimistic chiropractor, I would prescribe home exercises thinking that the patient would simply go home and do them and they would get better. Well, I soon learned that people don’t do things that are dull. Home exercises get boring. Very boring. So guess what, they don’t get done.

A decent walk can send you into uncharted territory. It can take you into nature. It can be a very nourishing and refreshing activity. You can stick your shoes and coat on and you are good to go. Walking is enjoyable, so it gets done! And when it gets done- you reap the benefits.

The physical AND mental benefits.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that walking has its obvious physical benefits. For example:

  • You stress the cardiovascular system over a prolonged period of time.
  • You mobilise your joints
  • You strengthen your body

When you consider this - is it any wonder why it helps with chronic lower back pain?

It also has its mental benefits. For example:

  • You give the mind a rest
  • You smell, feel and hear the soothing effects of nature
  • You get a sense of reward from completing a distance

What relevance does this have for back pain?

A lot of persistent back pain sufferers also have low mood, anxiety and stress that may be contributing toward the cause or persistence of their issues.

There is also lot of research to suggest that stress reduction and addressing mental health has benefits for back pain. This may be why the mental health benefits of walking may have additional effects on managing lower back pain.

In the 2015 study mentioned earlier - they also found that treadmill walking was not as effective as outside walking. This is an interesting finding because this shows that the physicality of walking in itself is probably not enough! Walking is an activity that helps you both physically AND mentally.

In conclusion

If you have chronic lower back pain- get outdoors and get walking!

It will give you physical and mental benefits that will help to minimise symptoms of pain and disability.

Walking is just as effective as other commonly used interventions BUT it is probably more enjoyable and therefore sustainable to continue doing

Thank you for reading!


Shane Derbyshire is a Chiropractor from Norwich and takes long walks himself in the local Norfolk countryside to help maintain his health. He also strongly recommends his patients to utilise the benefits of walking for back pain and other conditions. If you would like to read more information on how to manage your back pain - please check out his blog.