The sharp pain that occasionally emanates from the lower back is a familiar feeling that all hikers experience. We do not like it, but it is something that comes around whenever we walk a considerable distance in a hike session. We also feel it whenever we walk too much on an inclined or declined terrain. Back pains in hiking are very common, so it is somewhat natural. Fortunately, there are several ways we can reduce it from occurring and even prevent it.
This guide will teach you all you need to know about hiking-triggered lower back pain. This comprises the cause of the sensation and ways to prevent it.
What is Hiking Lower Back Pain?
Lower back pain after hiking is simply the painful sensation you feel at the bottom of your back due to long-distance coverage and subsequent poor posture during the activity. It could also be caused by fatigue from long walks, uneven terrain, or how your backpack settles when strapped to your back.
The lower back is known as the Lumbar area. The back part is located under your rib cage and just above the upper part of your legs. It comprises five vertebrae and works as a unit with other essential areas of your body, including your ligaments, muscles, and upper bones.
The rate at which pressure builds on your lumbar area is dependent on how your entire lower muscles move as a unit.
Anybody at any age can suffer lumber pain as it is more about their choice of trail, terrain, tag-along weight bags, and how they position their body. However, older people can be more prone to suffer back pain if they do not walk with the right posture, walk for too long and beyond their limit, or ply mountain-like terrain.
Most Lower back pains are often temporal, so you will not have to worry about them for too long. The pain may build gradually if you are bent so that your weight settles on your lower back, while it can sometimes be sharp and sudden. Fortunately, straightening up or resting for a while will reduce the sensation in the region. If the pain doesn’t dissipate after resting, you may need more proper treatment.
Short-term lower back pain during or after hiking is termed acute lower back pain, while those that linger for long are chronic lower back pain. Chronic lower back pain often has accompanying symptoms like numbness, swelling, and irritation and will generally require professional medical attention.
Causes of Lower Back Pain After Hiking
Several factors are responsible for lower back pain after hiking, and most do not happen because of the hiking activity but majorly because of the things you are doing wrong. This is why you need to know all the steps and tips to reduce the propensity of using the wrong practices when hiking. But before we move to that, here are the primary cause of lower back pain when hiking.
One of the major causes of hiking lower back pain is the choice of backpack you use or your experience. Sadly, many hikers do not know how much their choice of backpack may affect their back. Actually, your choice of backpack plays the most important role in determining whether you will end up with lower back pain. Below are the different ways your backpack choice can affect your back.
When it is Overloaded
An overloaded backpack will always put pressure on your back and leave you feeling pain within a few hours. Yes, you may want to pack all your stuff into one bag, but you should also consider not loading in much more weight than your back can handle. This is very important as anything else will put pressure on your back and leave you in pain.
A Low-Quality Bag
Low-quality backpacks are available everywhere online and offline, and the funny thing is that some are priced very high, so don’t think the higher the price, the better the backpack. Far from it. A low-quality backpack generally lacks good lumbar support, making it difficult for your back to rest properly after loading in your stuff. You are highly likely to feel pain after loading up, especially when walking on rough terrains.
Most hikers purchasing their backpacks from local stores are likely to end up with known quality backpacks. The preferable way to get a good quality bag is to purchase online, as you will likely see tons of customer reviews on your chosen product.
Poor Setting of the Back Pack
Your backpack may be of total quality and designed for hiking. However, if you do not properly adjust its handles so that it takes away most of the weight from your lumbar region, you will not enjoy its benefits. This is why it is important to ensure that your backpack rests beyond your lower back and almost sells at the upper part of your buttocks.
Also, you tighten the hand straps to prevent your bag from moving sideways with every stride or climb. The continuous movement, when maintained for a long time, usually causes discomfort that can be very painful.
Placing Things Wrongly
If Your method of arranging stuff in your backpack is poor, you will be at increased risk of lower back pain. Do not arrange sharp objects at the bottom of your bag, as they are likely to rub against your lower back. The same goes for weighty objects and items with uneven surfaces. Let softer and more evenly balanced items be placed at the bottom of your bag. If you have to keep heavy items at the bottom of your bag, then ensure you adjust your strap so the heavy part rests on your buttocks and not your back.
Apart from your type of backpack, the choice of terrain for your hike plays a crucial role in causing back pain. Terrain influence on posture is so significant that you may even find it difficult to control how your body bends when walking on an uphill or downhill trail.
Walking on an even or flat surface generally gives you more control, making it easier for you to bend properly and walk more appropriately. So back pain from such terrain is not very common unless you plan to cover lots of miles that stretch you beyond your limit.
Walking in an Uphill terrain will generally force you to lean forward as if you are trying to hold on. Leaning forward is actually good for your back. However, overdoing it will trigger a counter effect which will likely be the case when climbing a steep terrain as you struggle to catch your breath and maintain your strides. This is exactly why you get to feel more pressure on your back when on an uphill terrain compared to any other type of trail.
Downhill hiking also comes with its own difficulty. You definitely do not want to lean forward on this kind of terrain. You have to hold your posture as straight as possible and may occasionally bend backward to straighten your spinal cord as much as possible. Leaning forward will put pressure and tension on your entire back and eventually trigger unpleasant sensations.
If you formerly suffered from a back injury, you are likely to be more vulnerable to back pain. Definitely, having your posture right and walking in an even terrain will help, but eventually, you will feel gradual pressure build up in your Lumbar area if you walk for too long. The best way to handle this is to let the former injury heal appropriately before deciding to hit the trail again.
Once completely healed from the pain, you can get back support and walk on even terrains. If the pain is lingering, you will also need to adjust how long you walk to significantly reduce the risk of increasing the sensation. Do well to ask your doctor for recommendations. If you are cleared to hike after an injury, you can apply other techniques to ensure you beat off the pain. If you are not cleared, then it is best to wait till you are set to go again.
How to Prevent Lower Back Injury After Hiking
From the above causes, it is easy to pinpoint things you can do to prevent lumbar pain after hiking. Firstly, you need to get the right backpack and ensure you do not do all the wrong things highlighted above.
Also, choosing the right terrain and trail for you will help reduce the buildup of pressure and tension on your back. If you have any serious injury before your planned hike, cancel it to heal properly. A doctor will help you determine the best time to return to the field. They will also let you know which type of treatment you may need.
Other ways you can prevent and reduce the risk of lower back injury include:
Exercising regularly as a habit makes your entire body stronger and more adaptable to stress and most of the demands that come with training. You can pick up resistance training and cardiovascular activities to build your resilience and stay in shape. Living a healthy and fit lifestyle would make you less vulnerable to a lower back injury during and after hiking.
Don’t just stay inactive throughout your weekdays and force your sleepy body into the trail. The activity will put your body into shock mode, increasing your risk of developing back pain. So the best option is to ensure you exercise regularly and live healthily.
Practice Sitting and Standing Right as Life Habit
A major reason you may feel pressure on your lower back after hiking is if your day-to-day life habits put pressure on the region long before you hit the trail. How you stand and sit can put your lower back under pressure daily, so the best way to deal with the problem is by learning proper posture.
If you are a computer guy who works with screens, you need to get a special-office seat that offers the right back support. Also, avoid leaning towards your device when working. Sitting upright is the best way to relieve your back from all the pressure around it.
When it comes to the right posture when standing, keeping an upright frame is often the best way to relieve the pressure from your back. You have to practice how to stand upright without leaning backward or forward.
Use Hiking Poles
Hiking poles are very helpful when it comes to back support. With your hiking pole, you can effectively transfer most of the weight on your shoulder to the pole in your hand. The pole is not just there for fancy walks. It is designed to help your back and make your hike experience as smooth as possible.
There are different types of hiking poles, and the good thing is that the one you have now is likely good enough. However, if you are not sure, you can check for more information online on the best poles to buy.
The Right Footwear
You should consider using the right footwear that supports your cushion and protect your ankles. Shoes are a major source of discomfort for most activities involving walking and running, which is mainly what hiking is about. A bad shoe choice will hurt your ankles and irritate your entire feet. This can force you to walk funny and put tension on your back.
You can buy an extra insole for your shoe when hiking if it will help limit the pain you feel when kitted. Extra insoles are not uncommon and are actually recommended by veteran hikers, so you are not doing anything wrong.
Back pain in your lower back is a serious concern as a hiker, whether as a temporary discomfort or a more serious chronic situation. Therefore, you must be willing to employ all the different methods outlined in this piece. You should also know the important role of resting when on the trail. If your walk schedule is too stringent, it will affect your lower back during and after your time on the trail. This is why walking within your limit and endurance level is important.