Ask a Physical Therapist: Walking with Back Pain

Question: Why does my back feel tight and get sore when I’m walking?

Answer: Upper back pain is often related to postural imbalances from weakness and lack of flexibility throughout the trunk. Due to the repetitive environments we function in while performing computer/desk work, sitting while driving or operating heavy machinery, texting/phone use, etc, we end up spending a lot of time with our upper backs hunched forward. This prolonged slouched positioning causes the muscles in the front of our trunk to become tight and muscles in the back to become weak. The joints of our shoulders and vertebra also become less flexible and “stuck” in a forward, bent position. When we walk upright, we are moving our spine into the opposite extension direction, which requires engaging the muscles of our back. If these muscles are weak they start to fatigue and can become tight and painful trying to keep our stiff upper back and shoulders upright against gravity. This can make daily tasks such as washing dishes, folding laundry and prolonged walking uncomfortable. Simple stretches of the chest muscles and upper back, such as lying flat on the floor with a pillow under your upper back and arms outstretched in a “Y” or overhead position, can help improve flexibility. Strengthening exercises that target the upper back and shoulder retractors, such as resisted low rows or lat pull downs, can help improve the endurance of the postural stabilizers. For a more detailed assessment and specific recommendations for an individual home exercise program, contact our clinic for an appointment.

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