Every day, millions of people experience lower back pain when walking.
From taking the dog around the block, relieving stress with physical activity, or just trying to get some exercise, walking is a part of life.
If you experience pain in your lower back when walking, you’re not alone. Nearly 80 percent of all adults experience lower back pain at some stage in life.1
Here are some possible symptoms and causes of lower back pain when walking. If you are experiencing lower back pain when walking, see your doctor. Only a doctor can diagnose what is causing your pain, but this overview will help you to understand the way your body works.
Symptoms of Lower Back Pain When Walking
If you’re experiencing pain in your lower back (also called your lumbar spine) when walking, you may have felt some of these symptoms already.
Pay attention to what your back is telling you. What type of discomfort are you feeling? Is it dull pain? Is it shooting pain? Identifying the type of pain will help your doctor figure out what’s going on.
Also, pay attention to where you feel the pain. Is it in one specific area? Is it acute pain that radiates across your lower back?
The type of pain and its location may help you and your doctor determine what’s going on.
If you are experiencing lower back pain when walking, here are some pain symptoms you may be feeling:
- Muscle spasms
- Fatigue or weakness in muscles
- Pinched nerve
- Dull, aching pain
- Shooting pain
- Chronic pain
- Restricted mobility
- Decreased range of motion2
Possible Causes of Lower Back Pain When Walking
There are many possible causes of lower back pain when walking. Your posture and your form while walking can affect the way your back and spine feel. Injury factors like muscle sprain, muscle strain, sciatica, and disc injury can also cause discomfort.
Furthermore, certain chronic medical conditions can require medical attention, emergency care, or spine surgery. These include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
- Cauda Equina Syndrome
In order to assess the type of treatment you require, your doctor will need to determine what is causing your back pain. Here are some possible causes of lower back pain when walking.
1. Your Posture Could Be Causing the Pain
The way you hold your body when walking can play a major role in your comfort level and ease of walking. While good posture can result in little to no pain or stress, bad or inefficient posture can cause lower back pain and postural stress.
What are the Symptoms of Postural Stress?
Beyond lower back pain, if you’re suffering from postural stress, you may also experience:
- Aches and pains in other parts of the body, such as the neck, shoulders, and knees
- Slumped or rounded shoulders
- Hunched back
- Trouble walking long distances
- Abdominal obesity or potbelly
- Bent knees 3
Possible Causes of Postural Stress When Walking
Postural stress can result from a variety of circumstances while walking, including:
- Prolonged time spent walking with incorrect posture
- Muscle weakness
- Carrying a heavy backpack or unbalanced load
- Looking down at a cell phone while walking4
Can Correct Posture While Walking Prevent Lower Back Pain?
Maintaining good posture while walking may help prevent pain in the lumbar spine. Study the way you hold your body when you are walking. Are you following these steps?
Stand up straight, without leaning forward or back.
Pull in your stomach and rotate your hips forward with your buttocks in.
Keep your eyes forward with your chin parallel to the ground.
It is also a good idea to increase strength in your hamstrings and back muscles to help maintain good posture. Stress management may also help decrease postural stress.5
2. Lumbar Sprain or Muscle Strain Could Be To Blame
Your lower spine is supported by a network of soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. If you feel irritation, muscle spasms, or tightness across your lower back, hips, or buttocks when walking, the tissues may be damaged. This can lead to lumbar sprain or muscle strain.6
What are the Symptoms of Lumbar Sprain and Muscle Strain?
When you sprain or strain your lumbar spine, the soft tissues in your back can become aggravated and inflamed. The pain can range from slight to debilitating. Depending on the extent of the injury, you may experience:
- Muscles spasms (with exercise or rest)
- Stiffness or soreness in your lower back
- Restricted range of motion
- Tightness in lower back muscles
- Pain that radiates from your back to your buttocks7
Possible Causes Of Lumbar Sprain And Muscle Strain
You can strain your lower back by pulling or twisting your lower back muscles suddenly or awkwardly. Chronic strain can occur if you overuse muscles in a repetitive fashion.
Remember the old saying, “Lift with your legs, not with your back?” You can also experience muscle strain by lifting something improperly or by putting too much stress on your back muscles.
Lumbar sprain can occur when one or more ligaments in your back are stretched beyond their normal range.
This can happen after a fall, an unexpected twist, or a forceful blow to your body.
Excessive activity from aerobic exercise or low-impact exercise can cause a sprain. Displaying incorrect form while exercising can also be troublesome.
Other factors that may cause a lower back sprain or strain include:
- Weakness in the back or abdominal muscles
- Tightness in the hamstrings
- Being obese or overweight
- Curving the lower back for long periods of time
- Playing sports where pulling and pushing is frequent8
What To Do If You Think You Have Sprained Your Lumbar Spine Or Strained A Lower Back Muscle
Call your doctor to evaluate your options. If you think you have a serious sprain or strain, your doctor will be able to evaluate your injury and discuss treatment.
3. A Herniated Or Slipped Disc
If you feel severe, sharp pain shooting through your lumbar region when walking, you might be experiencing sciatica from a slipped disc.
The bones (vertebrae) that make up your spine are cushioned by small discs. These discs absorb shock and help protect the spinal cord. If a disc slips out of place, it can press on the spinal nerve and cause severe pain.9
What are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?
Symptoms may vary depending on the location and size of the injured disc. If the disc is pressing on a nerve, the symptoms may be more severe, as with sciatica.
Sciatica may cause a shooting pain, burning, tingling or numbness that occurs anywhere along the sciatic nerve from the buttocks to the legs.
Other symptoms may include:
- Low backache
- Lumbar spinal pain (pain in the lower back)
- Severe, electric shock-like pain
- Numbness and weakness (usually on one side of the body)
- Pain that increases when walking or standing10
Possible Causes Of A Herniated Disc
Spinal discs have a soft, jelly-like center and a tough exterior. A disc herniation or ruptured disc occurs when this “jelly” substance slips through a crack in the wall of a disc. This can happen in the lower back or neck. Causes include:
- Weak discs
- Twisting or turning the wrong way
- Heavy lifting
- A sedentary lifestyle11
What To Do If You Think You Have A Herniated or Ruptured Disc
Call your doctor. They will perform a physical exam, diagnose your condition, and provide treatment options.
4. Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing in the spine caused by a compression of the spinal canal. When this happens, pressure can be placed on nerve groups and the spinal cord, causing pain.
What Are The Symptoms Of Spinal Stenosis?
While spinal stenosis is mostly a concern for people over the age of 50, an injury of the spine or being diagnosed with a narrow spinal canal are risk factors.
Spinal stenosis symptoms can include:
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Pain shooting down the leg
- Numbness or weakness in an arm or leg
- Loss of sensation in the lower extremities
- Cramping or pain in an arm or leg
- Discomfort in the feet12
Why Does Spinal Stenosis Cause Pain In The Lower Back?
While spinal stenosis can cause pain in the shoulders, arms, and neck, it commonly affects the lower back and legs as well.
Lumbar spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal is compressed and the spine narrows.
Pain and numbness can often occur in the lower back, in one or both legs, and the buttocks.
Spinal stenosis can also be caused by other conditions that shrink the spinal canal, including degenerative joint problems or bone disorders.13
What To Do If You Think You Have Spinal Stenosis
If you think you may have spinal stenosis, see your doctor for treatment. Spinal stenosis is diagnosed with a physical examination and visual imaging tests. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy, pain relievers, a back brace, and/or spinal surgery.14
Other Potential Causes of Lower Back Pain When Walking
Lower back pain when walking is not limited to these causes. Here are some other potential causes of lower back pain when walking:
Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES)
The compression of nerve roots, commonly resulting from a herniated disc in the lumbar area.15
Degenerative Disc Disease
Can be caused by the drying out of a disc, daily physical activity and sports, or injury.16
When part of a bone in the spine, a.k.a. a vertebrae, collapses.17
See Your Doctor for Lower Back Pain When Walking
You don’t want to gamble with your back health. Call your doctor to advise you on any type of treatment. Here’s what your doctor might recommend:
- NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications)
- Cortisone injections
- Prescription orthotic shoes
- Physical therapy
- Strengthening exercises
- Mobility stretches
- Modalities (including electric stimulation and ultrasound)
- Muscle relaxants
- Topical creams and ointments
While you’ll always want to call your doctor for advice, especially if your pain is severe, there are also several things you can do at home that might help you manage lower back pain.
- Change up your exercise routine
- Apply heating pads and ice packs
- Buy a more supportive mattress
- Pay attention to your posture
- Lose weight
- Focus on relaxing and natural stress relief18
If you are one of the millions of people suffering from lower back pain when walking, don’t despair. Always call your doctor if you are experiencing severe pain or simply want to apply best practices to your condition.
Pain doesn’t have to prevent you from enjoying a stroll around the block.
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