Back Pain When Walking or Standing

backpainhot1.jpgIf you have back pain when walking or standing, it would be good if you could look for cues that bring it on. Back pain just doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Something causes it. A lot of the time, it’s caused by how we move.

With that thought in mind, here are a few questions that you could ask yourself:

  • How is my posture? Slouched or straight?
  • Do I take small steps or big steps?
  • Do I swing my arms from the shoulders?

These are just a few questions that you could ask yourself. There are others that are probably more specific to your body type and activity level.

Changing Movement Patterns To Improve Back Pain When Walking

So, what’s the point?

Generally how you move let’s you know a little more about the conditions of your muscles. Remember, most cases of back pain are not caused by serious conditions. They are caused by tight and weak muscles.

For instance, if you have very little arm swing, the muscles in your torso and mid-section are probably a little tight. This tightness can lead to a sore and stiff back.

So, getting back to those questions…, what you’ll want to do is take note how you move and if changing the way you move increases or decreases your lower back pain. Keep in mind that stretching a muscle and putting more demands on it may temporarily cause an increase in pain. But, that’s not necessarily bad as long as it isn’t debilitating.

Think about this, if a weekend warrior type goes out and plays a hard game of football on Saturday or Sunday, he’s probably going to be a little bit sore on Monday morning.

But this doesn’t mean that he did something wrong or got injured. No, he just worked his muscles in ways that he’s not used to doing and his muscles are letting him know that they aren’t used to it.

Explore What Causes Your Back Pain When Walking Or Standing

By exploring how your body responds to gentle changes in the way that you move may be just what you need. And, this is something that you have direct control over. But, don’t try to do them all at once.

Go for a walk at lunch time and purposely swing your arms a little further than normal and see how you feel later. Or, for a short distance, take a longer stride and see how you feel at the end of the day.

There’s really two upsides to doing this: 1) You get a deeper understanding of your limitations. This is something that you can share with your doctor and something you know to avoid in the future.

And, 2) If by exploring different ways of walking or standing you actually reduce your pain,… Well, then, you’ve gone from doing something that always gave you pain to something that you can continue to do to relieve your back pain when walking or standing.

Some Causes Of Back Pain In Standing

Why Do I Have Back Pain When I’m Standing Up?

Have you seen this one sure sign that someone is having back pain when walking? It’s
probably so common that you don’t pay attention to it. Next time you go to the grocery store notice how many people you see leaning forward on their carts and pushing with their elbows.

While these people may not be in excruciating pain at the time, the fact that they need extra support to walk around the store is a sure indication that there is definitely some work to do. But, what do they have to work on?

 I have written several times (here and here) that I feel the majority of back pain is caused by tight and strained muscles. In fact, this site focuses on back pain relief from tight and weak muscles.

But, these affected muscles aren’t the only things that can actually cause back pain. Let’s take a look at some other things that can actually cause, or contribute, to someone having back pain when standing or walking.

Back Pain Causes In Standing : A Short List

Now, a lot of the causes of lower back pain are too many to mention here. But, with most people, when they think about severe back pain, the first thing that comes to mind is “a bulging disc”. But this is only one of the several things included in spinal anatomy that can cause problems.  A short list of potential back pain causes is as follows:

  • Intervertebral Discs
  • Vertebral Joints
  • Spinal Muscles
  • Ribs, Vertebrae, Sacrum

As far as the discs go, like everything else in the body, they are pretty resilient. Just because someone may have a bulging disc, doesn’t mean that it’s giving them any problems. Studies have been done that actually show that a significant amount of people actually have bulging discs but have no symptoms whatsoever.

However, these little buggers can cause a lot of problems when they do go bad. Generally, a disc actually has to “herniate” in order to cause severe pain. This is when the disc protrudes so much that it’s outer rings tear and cause pressure on a nearby nerve.

Most of the time walking and being upright “loads” the disc with gravity pulling down the body’s weight. This squeezes the disc more and causes more pressure or nerve root irritation. People with this problem are probably more interested in lying down somewhere to relieve the pressure on the disc. A surgical procedure called a “discectomy”, where the disc protrusion is cut away, is one way this problem is solved.

Another problem that someone could run into is arthritis in one of the vertebral joints. When I say “arthritis” I am not talking about “old age arthritis”. I just mean “joint inflammation”, or “joint irritation”.

Each vertebrae has at least 6 places that could suffer from arthritis. The back bones where the ribs attach have 10 places(!) that could be the culprits. One of the most common forms of vertebral joint irritation happens at the “facet joints”.  These are pretty small joints. If they are irritated or inflamed they can cause a lot of pain when a person has to stand up straight. Many times, a doctor may inject the joint with a steroid to reduce the pain and swelling.

Chiropractors mostly make their living “adjusting” the bones of the spine. Everyone is pretty much familiar with the “rack ’em and stack ’em” reputation that Doctors of Chiropractic (DC) have. But there is a lesser known profession of  “bone setters” out there. They are called Osteopaths, or, Doctors of Osteopathy (DO).

DOs are fully fledged doctors recognized by the American Medical Association (Chiropractors aren’t).  Like DCs, their training includes mobilizing and manipulating the bones and joints. However, in the case of the DOs, their training covers basically the whole body, while DCs only cover the spine primarily.

With that in mind DCs and DOs have long made the case that the position of the bones in the back can contribute or cause a lot of back pain. When, because of tight or weak muscles, an injury of some sort, or anything else that can cause the bones to become misaligned, the mechanics of the back are thrown off.

This is similar to a door or drawer that are not aligned correctly. They just don’t work right and you have trouble moving them. They get stuck open or closed and you have to really put in a lot of effort for them to work the right way. The bones of your body work along the same principles.

Any of the bones of the back, i.e. the ribs, vertebrae, or sacrum, can get “stuck” for whatever reason, in one position. When this happens, moving in the opposite position is usually painful. If the bones get stuck in the position of being bent forward, then it becomes a challenge to stand up straight. This is because standing up straight means you have to bend back.

A good Physical Therapist, Osteopath, or Chiropractor, should be able to help you if this is your problem. Most of the time, although it may “feel” pretty serious, it’s not.

You May Have Some Control Over Your Back Pain In Standing

The last thing that I’ll cover in this post about the different causes of back pain are muscle strains. But, dealing with the muscles is probably what’s going to be most important to the majority of people reading this.

There are two really good reasons for this. 1) According to the literature, most cases of lower back pain come from nothing more serious than strained muscles. And, 2), You, dear reader, out of all the possible causes for your back pain, only have direct control over one of the causes of back pain. Namely, your muscles!

None of us can change our bulging discs, frayed nerves, or arthritic joints. But,… we can directly stretch, contract, or ice our sore muscles.

Because back pain caused by muscle strain is usually a result of tight or weak muscles, addressing it becomes a simple matter of either stretching and/or gentle strengthening to get some good results. This is something that you can do in your own home, on your own time, without having to come “out of pocket” for any service.

In addition, it’s really helpful if you do have to seek professional medical help for back pain, if you are able to tell the doctor “hey, doc, I did this or that, and it made it worse/better”. It lets the doctor know that you’re actually taking the initiative to do something rather than just asking for some pain killers. And, in turn, the more information you give your doctor, the more information they will be able to give you back have about your condition, the easier it will be to address your back pain in standing or walking.

Sciatica Symptoms: Do You Have True Sciatica?

Sciatica Symptoms Can Include Many Things

Surf Stretch

Sciatica symptoms include pain, numbness and tingling, buzzing, or electric shock type sensations. They usually are felt in the butt, thigh, calf and foot. This is because this is where the sciatic nerve runs.

The symptoms of sciatica are produced by compression and/or irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is made of of the last 5 nerves that come out of the spinal cord. They are the last 2 lumbar nerves, L4 and L5. And also the first 3 sacral nerves, S1,S2, and S3.

Sciatica symptoms are mis-understood by a lot of people. In fact, the term “sciatica” has basically been turned into a catch all to describe any pain in the back, butt or in the leg. But sciatica is actually a very specific condition.

Real and Pseudo Sciatica Symptoms

Some people have real sciatic symptoms, and then others have “pseudo-sciatic” symptoms. The two are often confused for the other and referred to as “sciatica”. In a lot of cases, even doctors don’t take the time to explain the difference between true sciatica and just “sciatica like symptoms”.

A person gets true sciatica symptoms when the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated close to the spine. This is usually the result of a bulging or herniated disc. Or, it could be the result of tight muscles around the sciatic nerve too. But real sciatica is more serious than the pseudo sciatica variety.

Most of the time sciatica symptoms will only be felt down one leg or the other. In rare cases, it may be felt in both. But for the most part, the bulging disc that’s usually responsible for causing sciatica is only bulging on one side and not both.

While it’s a pretty common condition that a lot of people have, most people don’t have a good idea of what it is. Sciatica is a set of symptoms. The symptoms could feel like pain, an electric shock, numbness and tingling, weakness, etc. The symptoms are telling you that there is something that is happening to the sciatic nerve. Sort like having a runny nose and fever are symptoms of an infection.

So,sciatica is a group of symptoms. It’s not a diagnosis. In order to treat it properly you have to find out what is irritating the nerve root and causing the symptoms such as numbness or pain.

This is a very important point. In most cases treatment for different causes of sciatica or sciatic symptoms may will be different. Sometimes the diagnosis may be a bulging disc. At other times it could be spinal stenosis. So, while the symptoms may be the same, the treatment will be different.

As was said before, true sciatica is often caused by a more serious problem that may require some kind of surgery. The symptoms of true sciatica are not easily relieved like the pseudo variety is.

Psuedo-sciatic type symptoms can sometimes be cured by exercise and stretching.

Sciatica Causes

Sciatica causes can often be difficult to understand. This sciatica video talks about the true causes of sciatica…


Find Out The Cause Of Sciatica Symptoms

So, how do you tell if you have real or pseudo sciatica? Well, the first thing the doctor will probably do is ask you about your symptoms. Do they run down the back or the side of the leg. If your sciatic symptoms run down the back of the leg, then your doctor may want you to take other tests.

These are usually an x-ray or MRI study. If either of these tests show that something is going on with the discs or bones of the spine, it’s an indication that the nerve is actually being compressed. If the lower nerves in your back are pinched you are probably having true symptoms of sciatica.

If the tests are negative, or, if your doctor doesn’t suggest surgery or something else, then a good stretching program will probably relieve your symptoms.

In fact, a good stretching program would be beneficial for sciatica symptoms in either case.

Creative Commons License photo credit: The.Rohit

Steroid Shots Are A Pretty Common Back Pain Treatment

This is something to watch out for anytime someone gets an epidural for spinal pain. Steroid injections are generally reserved for the most severe cases of back pain. A person could either be in the limbo state of not being a “good surgical candidate” or, they may actually have a surgery scheduled, but are in so much pain that they cannot wait for the procedure.

In general, epidurals work well. At least that’s what my patients tell me. It’s a procedure that is very targeted and is sometimes painful right afterwards. However, if the doc has got the needle in the right spot.

Even if you do have an epidural injection that does take the pain away for a period of time, you will still need to change your life style. A regular brisk walking program will actually relieve some of the pressure on the spinal nerves because trunk rotation shifts the spinal stresses to alternating sides and this has been shown to reduce spinal stress.

Take a look at this…


CHICAGO — Millions of people get steroid shots in their backs to relieve pain. Now they are probably wondering if it’s safe.

In 23 states, hundreds, possibly thousands, of back-pain patients are being warned to watch for symptoms of meningitis because of a custom-mixed steroid solution that may have been contaminated with fungus. Five people have died and more than 40 others have fallen ill.

Doctors who do these injections say they are extremely safe when done correctly with sterile drugs. And many doctors stick to medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration instead of relying on generally less-regulated “compounding pharmacies” like the Massachusetts company implicated in the outbreak.

“If I was a patient, I would definitely be concerned,” said Dr. Michael Schafer, an orthopedic specialist at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

So, How Would You Describe Your Pain?

This guy was pretty young. Maybe around 22 or 23 years old. He was heavy, but you wouldn’t call him fat. He would probably be described as “stout”. Sort of like Fred Flintstone.

He was coming to see me because he had hurt his back. He was a delivery truck driver and had tried to pull a pallet load of something that was too heavy. Whatever it was escapes me now.

Anyway, he was in the clinic, laying face down on the treatment table. I was prodding his mid back trying to figure out and isolate the point that was giving him most, if not all, of his pain.

As I palpated (that’s the technical term for “prod”) along side his spine, he burst into laughter. You know, the kind of thing where your daydreaming and you suddenly remember a joke that you heard before. The problem was that no one had told a joke.

I asked him what he was laughing about. He told me that that’s where the pain was.

So, I went back over the same spot. And, he laughed again. I asked him, ” Are you sure that this is where it hurts?” and he said, “Yes”.

I had to asking again, “so, why are you laughing?”

And he said, “I don’t know. I just laugh when something hurts me”.  Naturally I didn’t believe him until I kept pressing the same spot over and over again.

He just kept laughing and laughing. And, he didn’t tell me to stop. That is until I put a little extra pressure on it (but he was still laughing. Sort of like I was tickling him).

I told him that he was wasting his time driving a truck. He needed to go into Mixed Martial Arts or something like that. I told him his opponents would never know when to stop hitting him because he would always be laughing at him.

True story. (disclaimer: the person in the photo IS NOT the person in the story)

So, what’s your pain like? Where does it start? How long does it last? Share in the comments section if you don’t mind.

Some people have vivid descriptions. Then others have not so vivid descriptions. But, however you describe your pain is important. Accurate pain descriptions will tell your doctor, chiropractor, or, physical therapist a lot about what may be going on with you.

Now, if you’ve read some of the other articles here, you’ll have read that most back pain is due to muscle strains and the like. But there are other things that can cause your back to hurt.

Most of the time muscular pain can feel like an “ache” that increases with certain movements. And, it may become “sharp” with those movements.  But, most of the time, it just stays in the same area. It doesn’t travel around.

On the other hand, if a nerve is irritated, it could feel like an “electric shock”, or, a “buzzing” (at least this is how some have described it).

The general difference between a nerve pain and muscular pain is that the nerve pain usually has a “shooting” quality to it. It travels up or down the leg and into the hip or back.

Sometimes your back or leg may feel like it’s “going to sleep”. Some describe this as “pins and needles”. This sensation could mean a few different things.

But, along with the sensation, it’s important that you describe where the pain is located. In the back, on the hip, down the side of the leg, down the back of the leg, etc.

Describing the location, along with how it feels is very important. You might want to consider keeping a journal about it.

But, what’s also important is talking with others about it too.

Take the time and leave a comment describing your situation. Get a conversation going on.
photo credits: Carnage at the Creek 6 © by KellBailey