Walking and Back Pain

Back pain can have a devastating effect on your walking program. Here are some of the causes of back pain and injuries, and tips you can try to keep your walking workout backache-free.

Back pains. Lower-back pain can signal a slipped or damaged spinal disc. Some lower-back pains result from exercising after years of relative inactivity. You will have to guess at the seriousness of these pains by the way you feel at the time; that is, by how intense they are, how disabling they are, and so on. If you have any doubts, however, see your doctor.

Couches and recliners can feel very comfortable; however, very few are designed with the health of your back in mind. Poor posture, such as slouched sitting, can place a great deal of stress on your muscles, ligaments, and discs. This stress can cause or increase back pain and make it more difficult for a sore back to heal. Choose furniture, positions, and postures that keep your neck and spine aligned and that support the natural curves in your back.

Many backaches are caused by mattresses that are too soft. In most cases, however, placing plywood beneath a soft mattress will not help. (Your spine won't get adequate support because there is still too much soft material between the plywood and your body.) What you should consider instead is a good orthopedically designed box spring and mattress.

Often, however, the cause of back pain is poor fitness -- specifically, weak abdominal muscles. At the pelvis, the weight of the upper body is transferred to the lower limbs. The pelvis, or pelvic girdle, is balanced on the rounded heads of the thighbones. It is held in place by numerous muscles, including the abdominals, the hamstrings, the gluteals, and the hip flexors. An imbalance or weakness in these muscles can lead to pelvic misalignment, which usually causes the pelvis to tilt forward or backward.

If the abdominal muscles are weak, the top of the pelvis will drop and tilt forward. Forward tilt of the pelvis leads to lordosis, or sway back.

In addition to abdominal weakness, a lack of strength in the gluteals and hamstrings can lead to forward pelvic tilt. While the abdominals stabilize the pelvis by pulling upward on the front, the gluteals and hamstrings offer stability by pulling down on the rear of the pelvis.

Exercises must be done to strengthen the abdominals and gluteals. Usually, walking gives the gluteals a good workout. But the abdominal muscles must be conditioned in other ways, such as through weight training or calisthenics.

If you have back trouble, or if you experience back pain when you walk, consult your doctor before beginning or continuing your walking program.

Side stitch. Side stitch goes by many names. It can be called a pain in the side, a stitch in the side, or a side ache. Sometimes it frightens people because it happens near the chest area. There appear to be two basic causes.

The first is improper breathing. This causes spasms in the diaphragm, the muscular wall separating the chest and abdominal cavities. To reduce this problem, "belly breathing" is suggested. That is, when you inhale, push your abdomen out. When you exhale, pull in your abdomen. It's just the reverse of what you normally do.

The second cause of side stitch is probably the most common. It's a stretching of the ligaments attached to the liver, pancreas, stomach, and intestines. These ligaments are put under stress when you walk vigorously. The bouncing action causes them to stretch, thereby causing pain.

One way to ease the discomfort of side stitch is simply to grip your side and push in. You should also avoid eating a heavy meal within the three hours prior to the start of your walk. During the attack of side stitch, bend forward, inhale deeply, and push your belly out. If the pain is intolerable or you have any doubt about the source of your pain, see your doctor.

Next, discover the different types of chest pain a walker should look out for, from simple heartburn to more serious conditions.

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