Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Suffering from back pain? Scientists say walk it off

New research from Sydney-based Macquarie University’s Spinal Pain Research Group revealed walking can even have a “profound impact” on managing back pain.  (Dreamstime)
By Hunter Boyce Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Walk it off. It’s more than just a jesting turn of phrase for ’90s tough guys. When it comes to back pain, according to a recent study, it might be the key to relief.

New research from Sydney-based Macquarie University’s Spinal Pain Research Group revealed walking can even have a “profound impact” on managing the condition. Published in the Lancet medical journal, the study – known as the WalkBack trial – followed 701 adults for one to three years. The participants were recently affected by lower back pain.

The participants were allocated to either a walking program helmed by a physiotherapist and featuring six education sessions on back pain prevention or placed in a no-intervention control group. Those in the walking program were pain-free for almost twice as long as the control group.

“The intervention group had fewer occurrences of activity-limiting pain compared to the control group, and a longer average period before they had a recurrence, with a median of 208 days compared to 112 days,” Macquarie professor and senior study author Mark Hancock said in a news release.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 39% of U.S. adults in 2019 had back pain. While just under 65 million Americans experience it in some form today (800 million worldwide), 8% of U.S. adults (16 million) suffer from chronic back pain, as well.

“We don’t know exactly why walking is so good for preventing back pain, but it is likely to include the combination of gentle oscillatory movements, loading and strengthening the spinal structures and muscles, relaxation and stress relief, and the release of ‘feel-good’ endorphins,” he added.

It’s an often debilitating condition that is also costing Americans a tidy sum. Lower back pain is the sixth most costly condition in the country, according to Georgetown University, creating a $12 billion strain on the U.S. each year. Walking can cheapen the financial blow by reducing doctor visits and time away from work.

“It not only improved people’s quality of life, but it reduced their need both to seek health care support and the amount of time taken off work by approximately half,” postdoctoral fellow and lead study author Dr. Natasha Pocovi said in the news release.

“The exercise-based interventions to prevent back pain that have been explored previously are typically group-based and need close clinical supervision and expensive equipment, so they are much less accessible to the majority of patients. Our study has shown that this effective and accessible means of exercise has the potential to be successfully implemented on a much larger scale than other forms of exercise.”