Your lower back is part of your body’s core. Contrary to what many people think, your core includes your entire trunk, not only your abdominal muscles. All the muscles from your shoulders down to your hips help you to stand upright and maintain balance while not only walking, running, hiking, but also while sitting and basically everything you do with your body.
Many people experience lower back pain when walking, running, hiking and even sitting. Worse than experiencing the pain itself, they think they just have to suffer through it and so do not do anything about it. If you have attended any of my workshops (or read my any of my blog posts), you know that I definitely do not believe in suffering! We are here to have fun and you should be able to do that without pain. So, what should you do if your lower back hurts while you are walking, running or hiking?*
If you are experiencing lower back pain, check your posture. What we call our “hips” is actually called the pelvis in human anatomy. The pelvis is the basin-shaped complex of bones that connects the trunk and the legs, supports and balances the trunk, and contains and supports the intestines and other internal organs. Imagine that your pelvis is a bowl filled with soup. While you are walking, you do not want to spill the soup! Visualize keeping “the bowl” (your pelvis) level so that the imaginary soup does not spill out. In order to keep your pelvic bowl level, use your abdominal muscles to bring the front of the bowl up, rather than using your gluteal muscles (those in your tush) to push the back of the bowl down. When you use your abdominal muscles to lift the front of your pelvic bowl, you will notice your lower back lengthen. This should relieve any minor lower back pain you are feeling. Practice with this posture while standing still and then continue to hold this position while you walk, run, hike and even sit.
Of course, the stronger your core muscles are, the easier it will be to keep your pelvis level for longer periods of time. Here are some exercises that will help you develop strong core muscles:
This dynamic yoga pose is a great way to prepare your hips and back for walking sessions. Get onto all fours, with your hands stacked under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale, arching your back and bringing your belly toward the floor as your gaze shifts up. As you exhale, round your spine and draw your chin to your chest, tucking your tailbone under. Repeat 5–10 times.
Lie on your back, bringing your knees in toward your chest. Check to see how much your pelvis tucked when you brought your knees in. Try again, only this time, don’t let the pelvis leave the ground. Only pull your knees in to the point where you can keep your pelvis still. Repeat 10 times.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Keep your chin tucked as you curl your tailbone up off the ground, squeezing your glutes. Go as high as you can while keeping your tailbone tucked, then return to the starting position. Perform 10–15 repetitions total.
Start on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and knees under your hips. Lift one knee out to the side without moving the pelvis (imagine you are a dog peeing on a fire hydrant), then return to the starting position with control. Complete 10 repetitions on one side, then switch to the other.
*always check with your doctor to ensure the cause of your back pain is not something more serious than exercise-induced muscle soreness.