Help Ease Lower Back Pain With This Step

Walking this way could boost your balance, too.

woman walking backwards outdoors

Updated on October 28, 2022.

There might be a simple approach for treating lower back pain, but you may need a spotter. It’s backward walking.

Multiple studies have shown that participants who engage in backward walking for several weeks experience a significant reduction in their lower back pain.

Walking this way

One such study, published in 2020 in the journal Sport Sciences for Health, focused on people who already had low back pain. Researchers compared the combination of walking backward and conventional therapeutic exercise to conventional therapy alone. After four weeks of intervention, participants who walked backwards for 15 minutes at a self-determined pace on days when they did conventional exercise (three times per week) showed a significant improvement in both pain and balance compared to those who only did the conventional exercise therapy. 

A similar study was published in 2011 in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online. During the 3-week study intervention, all participants—both those with back pain and those without—walked backward on a treadmill for 15 minutes a day, three days a week, at whatever pace they felt comfortable. At the study's conclusion, all the people with lower back pain reported a significant decrease in pain, as well as better range of motion. What's more, most of the lower-back pain group also showed a reduction in shock attenuation, a measurement that shows the body impact of the foot striking the ground.

For more than back pain

The benefits of walking backward may extend beyond low back pain. A 2022 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness compared backward walking with forward walking in participants with knee osteoarthritis. The result? Researchers determined that walking backward was a feasible option for rehabilitation in people with osteoarthritis in both knees.

Another study, published in 2021 in the Bulletin of Faculty of Physical Therapy, found that backward walking combined with conventional therapy resulted in a greater reduction of pain, as well as enhanced functional performance, for people with osteoarthritis of the knee. 

Safety first

Researchers think that backward walking may baby the back because it requires that the toe contact the ground first, rather than the heel. This could have beneficial effects on pelvis alignment and help alleviate the disc pressure associated with lower back pain. 

But don't just hop on a treadmill and wing it. In most studies, the participants were taught how to walk backwards safely before starting their intervention. They were also supervised, so the risk of a balance-related fall during intervention was low. If you have any balance issues at all—or are at risk for falling or breaking a bone—it's probably not for you. 

Article sources open article sources

Dufek J, House A, et al. Backward walking: a possible active exercise for low back pain reduction and enhanced function in athletes. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online. 2011;14(2).
Ansari S, Raza S, Bhati P. Impact of retrowalking on pain, range of motion, muscle fatigability, and balance in collegiate athletes with chronic mechanical low back pain. Sport Sciences for Health. Published online August 25, 2020. 
Goonasegaran AR, Suhaimi A, Mokhtar AH. A randomized control trial on retro-walking improves symptoms, pain, and function in primary knee osteoarthritis. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2022;62(2). 
Krishnan V, Pithadia K. Effect of retro walking versus balance training on pain and disability in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled trial. Bulletin of Faculty of Physical Therapy. 2021;26(1).

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