How Do I Stop Low Back Pain When I Walk?

Seniors: Do you get low back pain when you walk?

If so, you're not alone.

The inability to walk comfortably is a common but frustrating problem among seniors with lower back pain.

Watch the video to learn about new research that sheds light on that problem, as well as some solutions.

Back Pain Relief More 4 Life Physical Therapy St. Louis MO 63011 Gladly Serving Ballwin, Manchester, Chesterfield, Des Peres, Ellisville, and St. Louis County. Find A Back Pain Specialist Near Me

Why Do I Get Low Back Pain When I Walk?

There are many reason that people may get low back pain when they walk, but the most common causes among seniors are:

  1. Degenerative disc disease
  2. Spinal stenosis

But not everyone with degenerative disc diseases, spinal stenosis, or low back pain in general has difficulty walking.

So why can some seniors with low back pain walk farther and faster than others?

Well, the short version is if you can't walk as fast as you'd like, you probably have weak hips.

Before we jump into some strengthening exercises for your hips to help you walk longer, I want to share a little backstory on this post.

Research On Low Back Pain and Walking Problems In Seniors

I recently went to the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists conference, and one of the keynote addresses was on seniors with chronic low back pain and walking problems.

The speaker, Dr. Gregory Hicks, is a well-renowned researcher in the field of lower back pain.

Dr. Hicks has been involved in some landmark studies, but what makes his research unique is that he focuses on seniors with low back pain.

Most Low Back Pain Research Doesn't Apply To Seniors

You may not know this, but most research on lower back pain excludes people over the age of 60 to 65 due to possible health complications. This exclusion makes the results of those studies less applicable to seniors.

However, Dr. Hicks and his colleagues did a recent study in 2021, following 250 older adults with chronic lower back pain over a year.

They tracked their low back pain and walking abilities at 0, 3, 6 and 12 months.

Then they used advanced statistical techniques to identify factors affecting pain and walking abilities.

They found three subgroups of seniors with chronic low back pain:

  1. Low back pain only
  2. Low back pain + hip weakness
  3. Low back pain + hip weakness + hip pain

Interestingly, it was the presence of hip weakness that affected people's ability to walk most, regardless of whether they had hip pain.

So, if you want to walk longer, then is makes sense to get your hips stronger.

Now, Dr. Hicks and his colleagues did a follow-up to this study study, but I'll tell you about that later.

First, let's jump into some exercises to strengthen your hips.

Hip Strengthening Exercises For Seniors With Low Back Pain and Walking Problems

Single leg balance

One of the best exercises to strengthen your hips for walking is standing on one leg.

Single leg stance is a good exercise if you have low back pain when you walk

When you walk, you're essentially standing on one leg repeatedly.

Furthermore, balancing on one leg reduces the risk of falling while walking, a significant concern for older adults.

Practice standing on one leg, holding onto something if your balance is not great, and gradually reduce support until you can stand unaided.

Standing hip abduction exercise

If that's too easy, you can further strengthen your hips by doing kicks while standing on one leg.

standing hip abduction is a good exercise if you have low back pain when you walk

You can even use a resistance band for added challenge. However, the leg supporting your body weight does the most work.

Single leg mini-squat

Another option is doing mini-squats, like when you go down stairs.

single leg minisquat can help if you have back pain when you walk down stairs

This exercise strengthens your legs and hip muscles.

Chair squats (sit-to-stand)

Additionally, squats from a chair help strengthen your gluteus maximus.

Senior Strength Training Exercises - Chair Squat

This is one of the main muscles needed for walking.

It also helps you stand up from sitting.


Lunges or partial lunges are also great hip strengthening exercises.

Senior Strength Training Exercises - Partial Lunge

They strengthen your glute muscles and are especially helpful if you struggle to get up from the floor.

These are just a few examples of hip strengthening exercises.

Regardless of which hip strengthening exercises you do,  it IS important to do them if you have low back pain and difficulty walking.

Further Research On Hip Strengthening Exercise For Seniors With Lower Back Pain

I mentioned that Dr. Hicks and his colleagues did a follow-up study on this topic.

As of the time of this post, the results haven't yet been published yet.

However, the study investigated the combination of Manual therapy, And Strengthening of the Hip (the MASH trial)

The were studying the effect of adding hands on manual therapy of the hip to hip strengthening exercises.

And preliminary results indicated that manual therapy is probably a helpful addition.

So if you've tried doing hip strengthening exercises like the one above, but you're still having low back pain when you walk, seeing an orthopedic manual physical therapist may help.

Need Help For Back Pain When You Walk?

If you're in the St. Louis area and need help to relieve low back pain and improve your walking, we'd be happy to help you here at More 4 Life. Just tap the button below to request and appointment with one of our orthopedic manual physical therapists.

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