Updated on July 23, 2020

Note: Back pain can be a sign of a serious medical problem. Watch for these signs:

  • Back pain that shoots down into your arms or legs.
  • Back pain accompanied by fever.
  • Back pain with numbness or tingling in any part of your body.
  • Back pain with unexplained weakness or a loss of bladder or bowel control.

If you feel any of these, see a doctor immediately.

The back is one of the most common locations for chronic pain problems. Sedentary office jobs are often unkind to the back, and many exercise programs neglect the back, especially the lower back. 

If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, you’ll want to have a doctor check for spinal or muscular conditions that could require medical treatment. If you don’t have such a problem, you’ll want to start with a program of stretching and exercise designed to build strength and flexibility in your back. Focus on these points:

Core strength is a critical element of back strength. If your core muscles are weak, your spine and the muscles in your back will have to pick up part of the load, especially if you’re carrying weight. 

Ask a trainer or physical therapist to help you develop an exercise routine that builds both your back and all of the core muscles, not just the abdominals and obliques that we think of first when we hear about core muscles!

Stretching on a regular basis will build flexibility and mobility and reduce the probability of back injuries. A regular stretching program is a must for any pre-hiking training program, but it’s vitally important if you’re experiencing back pain. Yoga works wonders for the back and most organized stretching systems will include back-focused exercises.

Sleeping habits have a significant impact on your back. A firm, high-quality mattress is a solid investment if you’re experiencing back issues.

Posture is also intimately connected to back problems. Your core exercises and stretching will help your posture, but you can do your back a favor by making a conscious effort to stand and sit erect, with your spine straight and your shoulders back, making yourself as tall as possible. Slumping, slouching, or hunching forward on a regular basis will aggravate back problems.

You can reduce the probability of back problems on the trail by paying close attention to three important pieces of gear:

A well-fitted backpack is your back’s best friend on the trail. You may wish to shop at a brick-and-mortar shop, rather than online, so you can try on different packs and see what fits you best. Try on different packs with weight. Make sure back padding conforms to the shape of your back and the hip strap transfers weight to your hips comfortably and efficiently. Get familiar with your pack’s adjustments and learn to tweak them to shift the weight of your pack.

A high-quality sleeping pad is a worthwhile investment, and not only for your back. Choose your tent site carefully and make sure there are no obstacles that could cause back discomfort. You’ll get better sleep and your back will thank you.

Trekking poles are not just about balance. They can transfer weight away from your back and legs and give your spine and back muscles an important boost while hiking.


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