Study suggests this free activity can reduce lower back pain

A new study from Australia, published in the journal The Lancet on Wednesday, revealed that walking — a simple, cost-free activity—can significantly reduce the recurrence of lower back pain. 

Scientists referred to the study as the "WalkBack" trial. 

Researchers hoped to investigate the effectiveness of a walking and education program in preventing this common issue.

Low back pain is a widespread problem affecting millions of people globally—many experience recurring pain, which can be debilitating and costly. Exercise is often recommended to prevent these recurrences, but walking, an accessible and inexpensive option, has not been thoroughly studied until now.

The WalkBack study involved 701 adults who had recently recovered from non-specific low back pain. Participants were split into two groups: one received a walking and education program, while the other received no treatment. The study followed these individuals for up to 36 months to see how long it took for their back pain to return.

What is the WalkBack Program?

The WalkBack program is designed to help people keep back pain from coming back by focusing on walking and education. Here’s how it works:

  • Personalized Walking Plans: Participants get a walking plan tailored to their fitness and recovery levels. The goal is to increase walking time and intensity over six months gradually.
  • Education Sessions: Participants attend six sessions with a physiotherapist to learn about managing back pain, understanding modern pain science, and preventing future episodes. They also receive tips on handling minor back pain recurrences.
  • Support and Guidance: A physiotherapist acts as a health coach, offering support and making necessary adjustments to the walking plan.
  • Tracking Progress: Participants use a pedometer and a walking diary to track their progress. Follow-up sessions help keep them motivated and on track.

Key Findings

The study found that walking significantly reduced the risk of back pain recurrence. Participants in the walking group experienced their first recurrence after an average of 208 days, compared to just 112 days for those in the no-treatment group. 

Additionally, those in the walking program reported less disability related to back pain and a better overall quality of life. According to the study, "The intervention was effective in preventing an episode of activity-limiting low back pain."

While the walking group had lower extremity-related injuries, the overall rate of adverse events was similar between the two groups.