Low Back Pain When Hiking, Backpacking and Trekking

Published:  03/16/2021

Low back pain is a common issue amongst hikers, backpackers and trekkers.

Long days sitting at the computer with shoulders rounded forward combined with recreational weekend outings with heavy backpacks and long hours on your feet can lead to uncomfortable pack pain.

If you have recurring back pain, it is best to address back pain symptoms with a physical therapist or orthopedic specialist.

And in addition there are a number of things that just about everyone can do to help their pain.

Improve your posture
Poor posture can lead to changes in your spine, pressure on muscles, discs and joints as well as nerve damage that contributes to pain. When you practice optimal posture techniques during the day you are less likely to experience the damage that contributes to pain and more likely to hike with good posture. Here are some exercises you can do to help strengthen the deep neck flexor muscles.

Use trekking poles
Research has shown that using poles can help alleviate pain when walking. Pole use increases balance and stability, distributes weight through the arms and torso, and decreases loading of the spine and lower limbs. And, trekking poles decrease lower extremity loading and forces.

If you aren't sure how to use trekking poles properly, here is some great advice from REI.

If you regularly experience back pain, important features to look for are shock-absorbing poles and foam or cork grip with extended sections of foam that go 4-5 inches down the shaft from the grip so you can easily move your hands to adjust for various terrain.

Wear the right backpack
It is worth taking the time to get fitted to get a back pack that is the perfect for you.
It is imperative that you get one that has a chest strap and a hip belt. The hip belt should ride snuggly around your hips to cover the front of your hips. This takes the weight of the pack off shoulders and spine and transfers it to the hips so that the big muscle groups of the lower body can carry the weight.

Build your core strength

Your core is a complex of muscles that include the muscles in your back, spine, abdomen, glutes and hips. These muscles act to stabilize your spine providing a firm foundation for all the activities you do. When you hike, run, walk, jump, bend over, and turn, these muscles work together. They transfer force through your body and if strong and well trained, help prevent you from having back, hip, knee and even neck pain.

Strengthen the weak muscles and stretch the tight

Sometimes there is a muscle imbalance in the core and this can lead to pain. It is common to see the hip flexors being very tight and the glutes and other core muscles being weak from sitting for many hours of the day. This combination could result in an anterior pelvic tilt which can cause lower back pain as well as knee and hip problems.

When I work with clients, I perform functional movement assessments to identify these imbalances and correct them with stability and strengthening exercise, stretching and myofascial release.

I recommend devoting time every single day to working on your core to ensure the right muscles are activated as you head up a trail.

Here are some exercises you can do to improve your glutes and core.

Bent Knee Glute Raise

Side Plank Leg Lift 

Supine Low Ab March 

TRX Chest and Hip Flexor Stretch 

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