Today we’re going to talk about a very, very simple tool that you can use for chronic low back pain. It is called, believe it or not, retro-walking. It’s a very complicated, silly name for just walking backward as a potential therapy for people with chronic low back pain.
I’ve been teaching backward walking and backward running mechanics for a very long time for athletes.
But what’s really cool is that there is now emerging research that shows that including backward walking in a rehabilitation program can have pretty profound effects, particularly in chronic low back pain. There was actually a pretty big study done on Collegiate level athletes with chronic low back pain.
And they took on a very simple task, which was walking backward, 15 minutes, three times a week. Now, in most research, studies that you look at, this is being done in a non-natural environment, meaning they’re on a treadmill. They go to the gym, they turn the treadmill on, turn away from the machines and the TVs, and they just start walking backwards on the treadmill.
You don’t have to do this on a treadmill. I actually recommend that you do it in a more naturalistic environment as long as you can do it safely.
Now, here are the keys. When it comes to backward walking, having taught this to probably, oh, four or five thousand people over the years, it’s really interesting to watch what happens, You say, “okay I want you to walk backward” and people almost automatically get tight, they start to get nervous. They want to look behind them. What we want you to be able to do is stay in a nice upright posture and just simply work on a nice smooth transition going to the back. Obviously, when you’re doing this it’s going to change how your foot is hitting the ground. You’re going to be extending the hip. The main thing that I also want you to focus on is being nice and soft and smooth and ensuring that you obtain appropriate arm coordination.
Because a lot of people, when they first start walking backward, they get a little confused about what their arm is supposed to do. So just make sure that you go through this slowly in the beginning. If you’re doing it outside or in your house make sure that you’re not going to fall. Look behind you and ensure that there’s not a tripping hazard. If you’re doing this outside, I recommend that if you’re going for a walk, turn around and walk for 10 or 20 steps and then turn around and go forward again and just throughout the walk, get in a little bit of practice of this regular backward walking.
So one of the reasons that it benefits you is it changes impact forces. It changes how you’re hitting the ground because it’s altering how your foot is hitting. It’s changing muscular activity. But also from a brain-based perspective, moving backward stimulates the vestibular system in kind of a unique way compared to what we regularly do. And the vestibular system, when it has some mild dysfunction, has been tied into chronic low back pain.
So backward walking or retro-walking is a cool, easily accessible tool to almost everyone. I highly recommend that you give it a shot.