Will Hiking Hurt My Back?

If your doctor approves, hiking can be a great activity for you if you suffer from back problems. The exercise strengthens your core and leg muscles that serve to protect your back. Your muscles become much more flexible, which improves all of your movements. Hiking with back pain won’t necessarily increase your pain and may actually help relieve it.

In addition to muscle strength and flexibility, potential benefits of hiking that may reduce your back discomfort also include:

  • Stress relief. Stress is a major contributor to back pain. Both walking and being outdoors give you a chance to unplug and soak up the serenity found in nature — with the sound of birds and rustling leaves.
  • Improved balance. Particularly when you hike on uneven ground, the activity requires concentration on your steps to maintain your balance, which is always beneficial to your back. When you walk with confidence on any surface, good balance translates to better posture, which relieves back pain.
  • Toxin flush. Whenever you exert yourself, whether it’s hiking with back pain or working out in the gym, your body flushes out toxins that lead to worse back pain and stiffness.
  • Oxygenated blood. The exertion from hiking provides more oxygen flowing through your circulatory system. The higher your blood oxygen level, the healthier your body becomes, which includes improved circulation throughout your spine as well.

How Do I Prepare for Hiking with Back Pain?

The first step before you begin hiking is to get checked out by your spine specialist at the Southeastern Spine Institute. Even experienced hikers who have back problems need to ensure that the activity won’t put you at risk for more complicated back problems. An underlying condition caught in time by your doctor can result in treatment that temporarily precludes you from hiking with back pain.

Once you get the green light, take other steps to ensure an enjoyable hike that also protects your sensitive back. Before you head out hiking with back pain:

  • Stretch before, during and after your hike. Stretching before you start out loosens the muscles and gets your circulation pumping. Stop if you start to feel stiff and gently stretch your legs and lower back. After your hike, proper stretching that your back specialist or physical therapist teaches you relieves soreness that exacerbates a bad back.
  • Wait a few days between hikes. Your body needs time to recover. When your back is sore, hiking with back pain may take a little longer for full recovery. Rest to give your body time to heal so you’ll be set for your next trek.
  • Use the right equipment. Hiking poles are popular and help you maintain your footing so you don’t accidentally turn your ankle or lose your balance. Use a backpack that’s adjusted to your body with the weight evenly distributed. Many local outdoor centers and shops help you find the right backpack for your needs.
  • Eat and drink the right stuff. Your body — and your back — need to be hydrated, whether you’re walking when you’re at the peak of health or hiking with back pain. Drinks with added electrolytes ensure you’re properly hydrated. Healthy snacks like dried fruit, bananas and trail mix are ideal to keep you energized to make it through the hike. Stay strong and hydrated to keep from suffering an injury.

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