March 28, 2012 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Walking is making my back hurt. What am I doing wrong?

I've started using public transit more, which requires a bit more walking than my old sedentary self is used to, but nothing extreme. All of my walking in a day probably adds up to about a mile, maybe two at very most. I wear boots or sensible flats w/foam supports. I carry a cross-body purse and a tote bag with my lunch and books for school (nothing too terribly heavy).

Since I've started walking more, I've been getting ridiculously large knots in my back, mainly in the middle of my back, around my shoulder blades. I've been getting massages to work out the tension, and it helps a lot, but I can't afford to do that every week.

I've been to a chiropractor, but they can't really find anything wrong with me. My neck is a little crooked, but there's nothing wrong at all with my back.

I want to continue walking because it saves money and it's a good way to exercise and de-stress before work, but I hate being in pain every day.

What am I doing wrong? Do I need to stretch or do yoga every morning before I walk? Do I need to wear athletic shoes? (I saw this post yesterday, but I don't really have the extra money to spend right now.) I've used public transit in the past and I've never had this problem. I'm in my mid-20s and in pretty good health, so I don't understand why this is happening.
posted by chara to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Frankly, it sounds like it's your cross-body purse to me. Have you tried another bag, like an evenly balancing backpack? If you walk the same amount without the bag, do you have this problem?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:23 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding the backpack! You might also consider wearing shoes that are designed for walking. Check out this thread for walking shoes. I know from experience that certain heel heights, including "flats", can make my back hurt if I walk for any distance.
posted by mareli at 7:32 AM on March 28, 2012

I reckon it could be the cross-body bag as well. If I carry a cross-body bag while cycling I get the same problem. If I wear a proper backpack or store things in a pannier instead then my back is fine.
posted by lizabeth at 7:41 AM on March 28, 2012

Yeah, try a different bag. I can't wear a messenger bag if I'm walking more than a few blocks for the same reason - my body just hates it. I switched to a backpack and the problem disappeared.
posted by rtha at 7:45 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a backpack and do yoga. I have exactly the same kind of upper and middle back pain and yoga 2x week really helped. The results are not immediate - give it a few months.
posted by yarly at 7:46 AM on March 28, 2012

Everyone's right about the bag; but I'd also suggest tightening your tummy muscles as you walk... if your core's not engaged then other muscles compensate and that can eventually hurt.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:50 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's probably the tote bag but... it is also possible to be in good health but terrible shape. I would consider working on your core with a basic DVD; this would give you more strength and support for your back.

I say this with no smugness at all. While you are working on your core, if you could also work on mine, that would be great and my back would stop hurting, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:52 AM on March 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'd say also make sure you have good posture- walking with a bit of a swayback can knot up your back. Pull yourself up tall and tighten your abs a bit. And don't take overly-long steps, as that can throw your back around, too- short, quick, gentle, soft steps are probably better than long, stretched, jarring steps where your feet are swinging far out from under your centre-of-gravity.
But yeah, backpack sounds like the best place to start.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:18 AM on March 28, 2012

A physical therapist told me it's okay to use a cross-body bag, but you need to make sure you switch shoulders. Maybe wear it on your left shoulder going to work, your right going home. (But yes, a backpack would probably be better, just like everyone else said.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:09 AM on March 28, 2012

MaryDellamorte asked a question recently about core-strengthening exercises that you might find helpful. I concur with everyone in that thread who suggested pushups - I started with half-pushups (from my knees) and can now do bunches of regular pushups, and my core is definitely stronger and more stable. I still carry a backpack, though.
posted by rtha at 9:48 AM on March 28, 2012

Yup, get a backpack. Your cross-body bag and tote do not cancel each other out!
posted by lulu68 at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2012

Nthing the backpack advice and the engaging your core advice. You might try tightening your core for a block and then releasing it at first, depending on your comfort level. It's hard to maintain that all the time if you're not used to it.

One other thing: you might try massaging your own back with the aid of tennis balls or a foam roller of some kind. I have two tennis balls taped together with athletic tape that I lay down on and roll up and down my spine. You might also try some general stretching before or after you head out. Stretch your arms up and bend to the side some, roll your shoulders, gentle neck rolls and back bends, whatever feels good!
posted by purple_bird at 10:46 AM on March 28, 2012

Are you swinging your arms from the shoulders while you walk? A good healthy arm swing, opposite arm of the leg stepping, will actually reduce the forces of tension acting on your spine.
posted by satori_movement at 11:19 AM on March 28, 2012

I agree about a backpack and bags that put weight on you unevenly. That was *huge* for me.

Another posture thing that can be a problem when walking is sticking your chin too far toward. That's very very common and can be linked to upper back pain. Try to remind yourself to tuck your chin in gently when you are walking if you notice yourself doing it. I try to think about stretching myself upwards from the top of my head rather than moving forwards from my nose. This visualisation may not be your cup of tea at all!
posted by kadia_a at 11:24 AM on March 28, 2012

What everyone else said plus shoes! Uncomfortable, too-tight or worn-down shoes can shift your body off-balance, thus making your spine work harder to keep the balance, leading to back pain. Be sure to have comfortable walking shoes and definitely look into a decent backpack.
posted by Lynsey at 12:20 PM on March 28, 2012

I never would've guessed that a purse could cause so much trouble, but it is the only common denominator in this equation. I still have back problems regardless of the shoes I wear and even when I'm not carrying my tote. Y'all are such smarty-pants! Thanks!
posted by chara at 2:19 PM on March 28, 2012

Make sure your shoes are not wearing out. in fact, try some new shoes.

Have your chiro measure you the way they do, which might point to some slight unevenness in your leg bones. (I have had this all my life but only recently started to wear a shoe lift which helps amazingly.)

With each of these, even a subtle change can cause a great disturbance.
posted by Riverine at 7:35 PM on March 28, 2012

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