Lower back pain is an incredibly common issue for hikers and trekkers.
Long hours on your feet, heavy packs and our modern lifestyle is a perfect perfect recipe for pain. And while back pain is an incredibly complex subject and everyone has their own root causes of this issue, which should always be diagnosed and treated by a physio...
There are a number of things which just about every trekker can do to help their pain...
1) Learn The 'Abdominal Brace'
Imagine someone is about to punch you in the side... Can you feel how your abs, your sides and your back all tighten up to protect you?
This is called the abdominal brace and is an incredibly important technique to prevent back pain.
This 'brace' increases something called 'intra-abdominal pressure' which creates additional stability for the spine and helps protect your back.
You need to do this every time you:
In an ideal world, the hips and the thoracic spine (upper back) would move freely. Unfortunately, due to our modern lifestyle, most of us are quite tight in these areas.
This is an issue because when these muscles have restricted range of motion, the body tries to find movement in other areas. And it ends up allowing more movement through the lower back... which is not a good thing!
The hips and upper back need to be stretched intentionally and regularly in order to keep the lower back stable and pain free.
Aim to stretch each muscle group at least 4 times a week for two minutes each.
3) Strengthen The Glutes
Having strong glutes (bum muscles) is incredibly important for protecting the back. But unfortunately (for a number of reasons) these are just not strong enough in most people.
A big emphasis should be placed on strengthening these up through exercises such as mini band walks, glute bridges and hip thrusts.
4) Practice The Deadbug
Once of the most common causes of pain is excessive extension in the lower back.
This happens due to fatigue or poor movement mechanics and causes your lower back to be put in a compromising position.
The deadbug is the single best exercise to prevent this. It trains the body in 'anti-extension', is incredibly back friendly and can be progressed for a level for just about anyone!
5) Get Walking
Inactivity is one of the biggest contributors to back pain. Sitting at a desk all day... driving in the car... lying on the couch. We simply do not move at all these days!
And simply going for a hike on the weekends or to the gym a few times a week isn't enough to counteract this.
You need to be moving through the day!
Try out a step counter for a few days. Once you have gotten over the shock of how little you actually move, set yourself a target to hit each day.
6) Avoid Exercises That Cause You Pain
While this is pure common sense, so many people seem to ignore it. Strengthening up particular muscles is important in back pain management but if certain exercises cause you pain, don't do them!
There are always dozens of alternatives for every single exercise you might do.
Example changes include:
8) Minimise Running
Common opinion in the trekking world is that running is essential to get 'trek fit'. But if you are a sucker for back pain, running might be doing you more harm then good.
For many, the constant jarring and impact of running can really put a lot of pressure on your back...
Try swapping this out for hiking, hill intervals or even swimming.
8) Pack Smart
If you are doing anything with a loaded pack, it is essential you load your pack evenly.
Dumbbells or weight plates are not a good idea, as they do not spread the load efficiently and put unnessesary pressure on the back.
Instead use water bottles, bags of rice or even dog food and fill out the rest of the pack with towels.
9) Use Trekking Poles
Trekking poles can be very effective at reducing back pain on the trail.
One of the biggest causes of back pain while hiking is bad posture. Using trekking poles will keep you upright, stable and take a lot of stress off the back.
10) Warm Up Before Hiking
While hiking may be a 'low impact' sport, a warm up is still very important at loosening tight muscles, raising body temperature and preparing the body to hit the trail.
Spend 5 minutes stretching your hips and upper back. Then perform a couple of sets of glute bridges or mini band walks. You feel a bit weird doing this at the trail head, but it will make a MASSIVE difference!
If you suffer from back pain while hiking, don't think you have to live with it. Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to pain free hiking on the trail.
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Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.