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Hiking With Lower Back Pain – An Ultimate Guide [2020]

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Since roughly 80 percent of Americans will suffer with lower back pain at some point in their lives, there’s little doubt that it’s a serious problem.

If you have back pain but you love to go hiking, you’re in a special category because let’s face it, hiking with lower back pain is the ultimate test of pain tolerance.

Fortunately, once you learn why most people get back pain and how to avoid it or improve the condition, hiking can be a little easier for you.

In this guide, we will give you some useful tips on how to avoid but also how to deal with this annoying condition while on the trail.

Let’s start with the culprit.

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

If you think lower back pain is nothing to be concerned about or you don’t take it seriously because it isn’t happening to you, you might want to reconsider your position.

Back pain is not just an inconvenience. It can stop you from participating in some of your favorite activities and even worse, it can stop you from living the life you wish to live.

back pain infographic

Image via Pain Pix, Flickr.

If your back pain has caused you to miss out on even one of your kids’ activities or from something you wanted to do for yourself, then you deserve to do something about it.

Fortunately, there are some common reasons most people end up suffering with lower back pain, and once you learn what these reasons are, it is easier to do something about it.

After all, preventing back pain is the ultimate goal, because this is the easiest way to avoid suffering with the pain in the first place.

While the following list doesn’t cover everything, below are some of the most common reasons people suffer with lower back pain:

  • Degenerative/herniated discs: The cartilage discs between the 30 vertebrae bones can wear down with age (degenerative), or even become damaged or torn (herniated). When this happens, it’s possible to hurt all the way down to your legs.

  • Scoliosis: This is an abnormal curvature of the spine that causes back pain.

  • Spinal stenosis: This happens when the space around the spine narrows, which puts pressure on the nerves.

  • Spondylolisthesis: Vertebrae sometimes move more than they should and, therefore, cannot support the spine like they should. Sometimes the bones slide on top of one another and press down on the spinal nerves, causing pain.

  • Vertebral fractures: This is usually caused by osteoarthritis, or brittle bones.

Occasionally, lower back pain is caused by conditions that are more serious, such as diabetes or a pinched nerve.

If you suffer with the latter, you may also have symptoms that include fever, night sweats, chills, and loss of bladder control.

Unfortunately, many people have lower back pain and their doctors cannot find the root cause. Certainly, putting too much strain on your back is very likely to cause pain, but other causes are simply undetectable.

Some people, in fact, may even be more genetically prone to suffering with this condition than others, but if you do find yourself in such a predicament, a trip to the doctor’s office can get you some relief almost instantly.

Can You Prevent Lower Back Pain?

Preventing lower back pain, though not 100 percent possible, is easier to do than you think. Most people these days have poor posture, in part because we spend so many hours per day seated in front of electronic devices such as computers and gaming systems.

Taking common sense measures that include improving your posture goes a long way in preventing back pain from happening in the first place.

If you hike regularly and you want to minimize the pain you feel while you’re out on the trail, here are some tips you can use to greatly reduce or even eliminate lower back pain altogether:

  • Always sleep on a sleeping pad when you’re in a sleeping bag.
  • Do stretching exercises daily. That will also help if you hike with bad knees.
  • Enroll in youga class.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Find the right backpack: as small as possible while still being functional. You might also want to get yourself familiar with ultralight gear and ultralight hiking.
  • Make sure the load in your backpack is evenly distributed.
  • Sleep with a pillow under or between your knees.

In the end, reducing or preventing back pain is a 24/7 job. You have to be mindful of your moves all throughout the day.

Sit in a neutral position when you’re sitting at a desk, sleep on a firm surface for better spine support, and pay attention to your posture at all times.

Furthermore, lift heavy objects using your legs and not your back, and most importantly, take good care of yourself by eating right and exercising regularly.

Eventually, most people will experience some type of back pain in their life, but the good news is that you can treat minor symptoms at home.

You can change your mattress for one that is firmer, take over-the-counter medications for the pain, and keep an eye on the pain in case it gets worse.

Remember, lower back pain can be a sign of something serious, especially if the pain is severe, so seeing a doctor as early as possible is never a bad idea.

Can You Go Hiking with Lower Back Pain?

Depending on how much pain you’re in, you can go hiking even if your lower back hurts. Note that this isn’t recommended if the pain is severe.

If you choose to go out on the trail and you’re experiencing minor pain, make sure you refer to the following four steps:

step 1

Consider Using Trekking Poles

You see hikers using them all the time, and for good reason. They help support your body as you hike and take some of the pressure off your back. They also make it much easier to walk correctly using the right posture. Finally, walking poles give you more stability when you’re crossing a stream or hiking over rough terrain.

step 2

Make Sure You Get An Appropriate Backpack

In addition to choosing the lightest one possible, make sure it is form-fitting so it doesn’t become cumbersome as you hike. Check out this list of the best backpack brands of 2020. Look for one with thick, sturdy straps, as well as one that is neither too long nor too short for your body. If you want a more specific recommendation, go with an Osprey backpack. They are highly adjustable, and ergonomic.

step 3

Wear Shoes Made For Hiking

Needless to say, when you’re walking, your shoes are important. Make sure you purchase shoes or boots made specifically for hiking so you can get the support you need to walk for long periods of time without pain. They need to provide good arch support.

step 4

Include Some Anti-inflammatory Products In Your Backpack

This should include both pain relievers and topical medication for pain. They can be separate or included in a first-aid kit, but they can be true miracle-workers when you’re out on the trail and start to feel pain in your lower back.

Most importantly, you have to be mindful with every step of your posture and the way you’re walking so that your hike is a lot less painful.

Remember, paying attention to your body 24/7 and treating it the right way goes a long way in helping reduce your lower back pain, whether you’re hiking or not.

How to Treat Lower Back Pain (On And Off The Trail)

For efficient advice, you can choose at-home methods or enlist the help of professionals such as doctors and massage therapists, as well as others.

First of all, one of the easiest ways to treat lower back pain is to take an analgesic and use one of those “icy hot” pads that you place directly on the lower back area.

Athletic woman touching neck and back muscles by injury

You can use a regular heating pad if that’s all you have, but the ones that alternate between heat and cold work much better on your muscles.

If you can’t find one of the heat/cold pads, make sure your hiking backpack at least includes an ice pack that you can activate and place on the lower back if you start to feel pain as you’re hiking.

Ice numbs the pain so you can enjoy a little relief, and these ice packs not only work wonders when you’re hiking but are inexpensive as well.

You can also massage the muscles yourself. This is sometimes difficult to do because let’s face it, reaching your own lower back muscles can be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Just feel around for any knots that might be there, and massage and press on them firmly but not too firmly, then hold it for 10 seconds.

Rest for 10 seconds, then start the process again. When your muscles are massaged, endorphins are released, which are neurotransmitters that help your brain block pain sensors.

Sure enough, it would be easier if you ask a friend to do it. It’s one of the benefits of hiking with friends as compared to hiking solo.

Another method that isn’t exactly a home remedy but which works is to schedule an appointment for a sports massage with a licensed massage therapist. This is a method I recently used, and it was a huge relief prior to a strenuous hike.

These massages are aimed at athletes and do a lot for the lower back area. If you speak with the therapist beforehand, you can let him or her know where your problem areas are. That will ensure you’ll get a more personalized massage.

They feel good, and you may want to consider getting these massages regularly so the pain becomes much more subdued over time.

Finally, you can try some mild stretching exercises when your back is hurting. This might sound dangerous or painful to do, but as long as you don’t overdo it, the stretching should help relieve at least some of the pain.

When your back muscles hurt, it is often because they are too tight, and a good stretching exercise relaxes the muscles so they become more supple and flexible, easing the pain every time.

Your Only Choices

When it comes to hitting the trails while experiencing pain in the lower back, you essentially have two choices: Do what you can to eliminate the pain, then practice good posture and body movements to prevent the pain from coming back.

Preventative care is always best, but since you’re very likely to have some lower back pain at least occasionally, it’s good to know how to relieve that pain when it comes.

hiking in a bulgarian mountain

That’s me hiking with lower back pain.

The good news about hiking and back pain is that everyday walking, including hiking, is actually good for your back muscles. Why?

First of all, regular walking flushes out toxins in the body and increases blood flow, both of which are good for building up the muscles in your lower back. The longer you walk regularly, the more those lower back muscles are strengthened.

Second, your lower back area becomes much more flexible with regular walking. Both the muscles and the ligaments in your back become more flexible with regular walking, so the entire lower back area has a much better range of motion.

This is great for those who hike regularly because with stronger and more flexible back muscles, hiking becomes much easier.

If you decide to start walking in between hikes to improve your lower back pain, you should always start with 5 to 10 minutes’ worth of walking then build up to longer periods from there.

Slower is better when you’re starting out because you can always work up to much longer walks as you become more used to it.

You should also keep your posture straight as you walk, relaxing your shoulders and keeping your head properly balanced without moving it forward.

Once again, be mindful of your body position so that it stays correct the entire time you’re walking.

Final Takeaway

If you’re a regular hiker and you’re experiencing lower back pain, it doesn’t mean you have to stop hiking.

Unless the pain is severe, hiking can actually help ease lower back pain, and the first thing you should do is take the necessary steps to eliminate the pain, which can include something as simple as taking an over-the-counter pain reliever or even seeing a doctor about the problem.

Once you’ve reduced or eliminated your back pain, you can start taking preventative measures to greatly reduce the chances of being in pain again.

Naturally, you’re not going to avoid all back pain for the rest of your life. After all, life gets in the way for all of us.

But with regular care and having a mindset that helps you remember to stand, walk, and sit properly at all times, you can learn to decrease the number of incidents that you suffer with back pain.


Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906
https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/get-through-the-day

hiking in rhodope


Asen Stoyanchev

Founder of this website, Asen is a passionate hiker and writer who is also a gear nerd. He’s been featured on many established hiking websites where he gives hiking advice & tips. When he is not trekking with his family or friends, he is writing articles and product reviews. Asen spends most of his time in Bulgaria but he constantly travels the world in seek of more unforgettable experiences. Read more about Asen here.

  • July 23, 2020
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Minaher - July 24, 2020

Well, I’m not a hiker, nor have I ever been. But, I love to travel with my family. Our vacations are never the lasy, sunbathing ones, but more the exploring ones, where you want to see as much as you can of the place and the surroundings you are visiting. It means walking from the morning till the evening or till your legs will be willing to carry you.
For some time already I know I’m slowing down everyone, because my back can be in terrible pain, so we have to stop and sit somewhere for a while. I won’t say it’s not nice to have a cup of coffee or an ice cream in some cosy caffe, but I’d rather go on and perambulate more.
You can see now how helpful your post is going to be for me to prepare for our next journey, even though it was not intended for plain walkers, like me. Thank you so much for this excellent article.
And, the backpack thing-my husband is the one who always carries a backpack with all our staff, like water, fruit, cameras, etc (for three people). I could surprise him with a nice one. Could you recommend one that’s good for that purpose?

Reply
    Asen - July 27, 2020

    Hi Minaher,

    Thanks for your comment. I know what is it like to have back pain when hiking with others. Luckily, there are some tips and tricks you can use to alleviate the pain and enjoy a fulfilling hiking experience. What works out for me most is Yoga stretching. Strengthening the core is vital for us, back pain surfers. As for the backpack, I’m assuming that you need one that’s more roomy if you say that your husband carries load for three people. In that case, you might want to check this article in which we sorted some backpacks with sleeping bag compartment. They are spacious enough. Hope that helps!

    Reply

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