Today we’re going to go over how you’re supposed to walk. You may not know that you are walking wrong, and you could be making things worse, maybe even increasing your back pain. I’ve been doing a lot of research recently about bio-archaeology. It is about how humans developed and moved away from our ancestors. I love this topic because our spines, in particular, are of great study because they’ve changed so much versus our nearest ancestors, which would be the chimpanzee.
Chimpanzees, being our nearest primate relative, have spines that are very, very different from our spines. And it all comes down to this: humans are built to walk. Chimpanzees are built to live in trees. And so what humans have done in the course of our evolution is to change our spines to allow us to walk faster and farther, but not maybe not necessarily with less back pain. We’re going to talk about that in just a minute.
Two of the things that our spines have done over the course of millions of years: one is to develop curvature in the lower back, so your spine has three curves. It has a lordosis in your neck, kyphosis in your upper back, and a lordosis in your lower back. And that lordosis in your lower back is not there in chimpanzees, so they still have kind of flat spines in their lower back because they’re spending more time climbing in trees than they are walking.
The other thing that we have differently is our femurs, the big bones in your thighs, got longer in humans, and that’s so that we can take longer strides and move a little bit faster. The evolution of our anatomy, particularly the design of our spines, has influenced the way we walk. If you’re already experiencing lower back pain, there are specific steps you can take to reduce the impact of your walking habits on this discomfort.
You’re supposed to be walking every day; that’s what your spine is built to do. These three simple changes are going to help to make sure that you don’t end up with more back pain.
- The first thing you’re going to do is minimize your stride, which means that you’re not going to take the biggest possible stride that you can take because all that’s going to do is increase how much your spine has to flatten out at the very end. The further you take a step, you’ll see, the more your hips have to move forward to allow you to take that big step. So you want to make sure that as far as you’re stepping, the heel stays below the knee. That shorter stride will ensure that we do not have to change how our lower back moves while we’re taking that step. In the European Spine Journal in 2003, they found that you could still walk really fast with a shorter stride, and that’s actually better for you. They took patients, and they had them walk at their normal speed, or whatever was comfortable for them, and then they had them do it again at a faster speed that was uncomfortable for them. And what they found was that it actually decreased their pains, while still having them walk faster. So first thing, minimize your stride, but don’t be afraid to walk fast.
- The second thing is we want to make sure we keep our shoulders back while we’re walking. I think it’s really common nowadays to see patients walking with their shoulders and heads forward, typically because they’ve got a cell phone in their hand. As your shoulders move forward, it flattens your lower back, and we don’t want to flatten your lower back. We want to keep our lower back kind of poking out because that creates that lordosis in your lower back that’s going to make it so that you don’t have so much pain. So the more that your hips tuck underneath you while you’re walking, the more that you start to crush the discs, and then you have your lower back at a disadvantage. Both of those things are really bad for you as far as pain goes.
- The third thing to decrease your back pain while you’re walking is to make sure that you allow your hips to tuck backward. Your hips should be pointing backward just a little bit while you’re walking. You don’t want them to kind of tuck underneath you because all that’s going to do is flatten out that lumbar lordosis that we have as humans in our spines.
So those three things: minimize your stride, keep your shoulders back, and allow your pelvis to tilt back into that kind of J shape for your lower back. this is going to make sure that you end up with less back pain from walking. Again, walking is very important because it’s good for your spine. It helps to increase how much nutrients the discs are getting and increases blood flow to the rest of the tissues there. Get out there, get a walk, and keep your shoulders back, your strides short, and your hips tucked back. Have a great time, and be well.