The link between being overweight and lower back pain when walking

by | Mar 1, 2024 | Back Pain

Back pain is never a pleasant experience. According to the World Health Organization, in 2020, lower back pain affected 619 million people globally and is estimated to increase to 843 million people by 2050. Lower back pain while you are walking can have a significant impact on your quality of life and mental well-being. It can keep you from working or doing things with friends and family, as well as living a healthier and more active lifestyle you may be seeking. It can be caused by many factors, and to treat it effectively, the underlying cause needs to be determined. A contributing factor to lower back pain when walking can be due to being overweight. The relationship between excess weight and lower back pain is complex, but the good news is if you are experiencing lower back pain while walking, physical therapy can help even without losing the weight first.

Causes of lower back pain while walking

Lower back pain while walking can be due to a variety of factors:

  • Muscle imbalances.
  • Poor posture.
  • Structural issues.
  • Degenerative conditions.
  • Excess weight.
  • Biomechanical issues.

The repetitive nature of walking can make issues caused by these factors worse and lead to discomfort and pain. 

Being overweight as a contributing factor to lower back pain while walking

Carrying extra weight is a common occurrence in the United States, affecting nearly 1 in 3 adults. Every pound of body weight places 4 to 6 pounds of pressure on the joints, especially those in the lumbar region. These joints in your spine are what allow you to bend, twist and move. Carrying extra weight in your abdomen can shift your body’s center of gravity and change your posture. The change in posture can cause you to lean backward, increasing the pressure through the lowest levels of your lumbar spine and making it harder to use the supporting hip muscles. 

Not every person who is overweight will experience lower back pain, but the two can go hand in hand. 

Types of lower back pain that can be exacerbated by being overweight 

While being overweight is not the cause of back pain, similar factors can contribute to both back pain and being overweight. These factors can include sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, increased stress and poor sleep. Each type of lower back pain has its own characteristics and complications:

  • Muscle strain — If you are overweight, prolonged walking can cause your muscles to tire more quickly, leading to aches and pains. A good strengthening program can help ensure that your body is well prepared to support your trunk in upright positions.
  • Disc herniation — There are changes to the spinal discs that occur naturally as we age. A herniated disc can happen as discs protrude from the outer covering, causing pressure and sensitivity to nearby nerves. This can cause lower back pain or even leg pain when you are walking. While excess weight is not the cause of this problem, the postural changes commonly associated with a larger abdomen can increase the stress on a sensitive disc and make pain last longer. 
  • Sciatica — Being overweight can worsen sciatic nerve compression. Sciatica can cause radiating pain, numbness and tingling sensations down your legs. Sedentary postures, poor sleep and poor nutrition make nerves more sensitive, increasing the likelihood of sciatica symptoms. 

Physical therapy for lower back pain

Physical therapy can be a crucial component in helping to treat and manage lower back pain. A skilled physical therapist can do a thorough evaluation to determine what techniques can be the most effective in providing you with relief. In addition to the postural changes and strengthening programs a physical therapist can provide to improve your pain, other techniques that have shown promise in effectively managing lower back pain include:

  • Dry needlingDry needling involves your physical therapist inserting thin, sterile needles into trigger points within your lower back muscles. These strategically placed needles are like a reset button for your tense muscles. It can help improve your ability to relax, boost your circulation and provide you with relief from the discomfort you feel while walking. 
  • Graston Technique® — Carrying extra weight can make your lower back muscles tighten. With the Graston Technique, your physical therapist will use specially designed stainless steel instruments along your lower back. These will help find and address the tightness in your soft tissue. This targeted technique can help improve your mobility by smoothing out the kinks causing your back pain. 
  • Manual therapyManual therapy can encompass a variety of techniques, like soft tissue mobilization and joint mobilization. Your physical therapist will use their hands to guide your lower back through specific movements. It can be a beneficial approach for people experiencing stiffness and restricted movement during walking. Manual therapy can help improve your spinal mobility and optimize your walking mechanics, which can help you walk more comfortably. 
  • Mulligan technique — Being overweight can wreak havoc on your posture. The Mulligan technique can target any funky movements you’ve adopted because of sliding into bad posture habits. Your physical therapist will be by your side to help you keep the right posture and alignment while you do specific movements like walking. The Mulligan technique helps you learn to move the way your body is supposed to move. This can help alleviate your pain and make your walking experience smoother.
  • Total Motion Release® (TMR®)Total Motion Release can be a full-body tune-up. Your physical therapist will have you go through a series of movements so they can identify any imbalances in your movements. Once they have identified all the issues, they can help you correct them to make sure the parts of your body work together seamlessly. When used to help with lower back pain, TMR can help your body move in harmony, reduce your pain and improve your overall mobility. 

Forever Fit Physical Therapy & Wellness is your ally in the pursuit of a more comfortable, healthier lifestyle

At Forever Fit Physical Therapy & Wellness, we understand the intricate link between being overweight and experiencing lower back pain while walking. Our skilled physical therapists have your back and will design a customized treatment plan that is unique to you. We strive to go beyond providing immediate pain relief. We want to help empower you on your journey to overcome lower back pain and reach your best health. 

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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