Why can fast walking be so good for low back pain relief?

Mar 17, 2023

One of the therapies I use to overcome lower back pain is fast walking. But why is it so good and how exactly should you go about it for best effect?

The benefits of fast walking for lower back pain relief

Walking is a whole body exercise. It allows us to work a number of core muscles and tissues. And in fact, for various reasons, walking fast is more beneficial to the body, and the back in particular, than walking slowly.

This is a therapeutic technique that is advised by Dr McGill, and it’s one that I often recommend to my clients. So here I’d like to help you understand a little more about the science behind why it’s so effective, and how you can be sure you’re doing it right.

The role of Myofasciae in walking

Myofasciae are bands of connective tissue that are present across the whole body. Their main function is to hold everything together, a little like an elasticated body suit. It actually does loads more for us than this – it’s involved in proper immune system functioning, it acts as a chemical messaging network throughout the body and more. But for the purposes of this conversation we’re going to focus on its impact on posture and movement.

Myofasciae run up and down the back, across the body, reaching from the shoulders down to the hips, knees and even ankles. It offers, in essence, a full, cross body network of support.  Near the beginning of the video above you’ll find a useful diagram and description demonstrating the full-reaching impact of myofascial tissues across the body. And it’s these that can help to protect our body from hard impact and potential damage as we move around.

When we walk, our feet strike the ground. This exerts a force upwards into our body. But thanks to the myofasciae, we are primed to receive this force, to carry the weight of our body and reduce impact or absorb shock. The more of our body that is involved in the act of walking, the greater the number of myofasciae that will come online.

And how do we ensure more of our body is involved? We walk faster and with more purpose.

Are you struggling with low back pain? Click Here to Book a How to Overcome Low Back Pain Online Consultation & Rehab Package

The mechanics of fast walking

Of course walking, by its very nature involves the whole body in terms of staying upright and moving forward. But walking at speed is truly a whole body exercise.

With slow walking, the load carried by the body, and the exertion caused by it, is concentrated in one area: the bottom of the spine, the hips and legs. We aren’t engaging as many muscles as we could be and we’re actually less stable.

When we walk faster and involve our arms, we create an exchange of power. The myofasciae work to create a functional line across the back and the front of the body as well as down the sides. This supports hip flexion and extension. As each leg swings forwards and each foot hits the floor, the load is being exchanged between these two functional lines. So when we're fast walking, not only are we engaging the muscles more, we're engaging more of the fasciae and we're also exchanging the load between the front and the back of the body.

Meanwhile, myofascial lines up and down the side of the body are working to provide stability, keeping the hips and shoulders aligned. Interestingly when we’re walking slower and these tissues are less engaged, there’s a much greater chance of our knees, ankles, feet etc. collapsing. Faster walking gives us a naturally more efficient and effective posture position which allows the movement to be more efficient and effective. 

The elastic band analogy

To take this a step further I want to introduce the idea of our myofascial tissues working like an elastic band, allowing for thoracic rotation. The video offers a diagram of this, but in short.

As one shoulder goes forward the opposite leg goes back, and vice versa, we get not just an exchange but a sort of a counterbalancing or counter-rotation. This thoracic rotation makes our movements much more efficient and even ‘bouncy’ leading to the saying, ‘walking with a spring in your step.’ Because that’s literally what we’re doing. When the hips and the shoulders are doing this, the spine is stabilized, more tissues are online, more muscles are working, more fascia are working and the load is being dispersed around the body.

We can imagine an elastic band begin stretched from each shoulder to its opposite hip. Left shoulder to right hip, right shoulder to left hip. When you walk, as your left leg comes forward the elastic band is being shortened. As the leg goes back the band is being primed again ready to provide the momentum to propel us forward. As we rotate the torso we’re also priming other elastic bands all of which work to drive us along. The more tissues we get involved the better as it will help to disperse the load going through each of our joints.

The faster we are walking, the more we’re achieving and yet the less energy we’re exerting and the less stress we’re putting on our body.

Safe and effective fast walking

So we’ve talked about how fast walking allows for the load to be dispersed around the body, while slow walking makes it concentrate in certain areas. But it’s important we also consider posture when walking. Ensuring you’re in the right position to bring more of these tissues online makes walking more of a therapy rather than a hindrance for the lower back.

Faster walking unloads the tissues of the spine and uses less energy. When done correctly this helps to reduce fatigue. When muscles become fatigued they can cause other muscles to need to compensate, which can cause problems in the lower back. Therefore it’s important to understand the impact of frequency, duration and intensity on the training you’re doing. 

Are you struggling with low back pain? Click Here to Book a How to Overcome Low Back Pain Online Consultation & Rehab Package

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