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Back Pain Relief For Hikers

A glorious day on the trail. Don't let back pain derail your hiking plans.

Back pain relief is something every trail dog has sought at one time or another.

Here's a typical scenario:

As the crow flies, your lovely hiking objective seems so easy, so attainable.

Yet after wiping the sweat from your brow and taking off your pack, you're reminded of just how hard you've been working your muscles on the trail.

As you straighten up and acknowledge your sore back, what are your options for back muscle soreness?

Great question, because if you already ache, imagine what delayed onset muscle soreness holds in store for you tomorrow!

DISCLAIMER: No medical advice is being given here, just common sense about your muscles giving you back pain messages. And begging for some back pain relief!

Back pain relief options
on the trail

Let's leave back pain prevention off the table here.

  • If you'd like some fast tips, go here.

Now, about that pain:

You could always grin and bear it.

But if you're not a stoic hiker, what are your other options for back pain relief?

  • Ingest over-the-counter (non prescription) pain relief medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin to mask the pain and alleviate inflammation;
  • Apply topical analgesics like Mineral Ice to mask the pain and allow you to keep hiking.

Note that these depend upon a fully stocked first aid kit.

Plan ahead, and always replenish what you use.

Other strategies to relieve back pain due to carrying a backpack:

  • Back stretches to let your aching muscles know they are acknowledged for their hard work but that you won't be antagonizing them any further;
  • Self massage to relieve the worst of the sore spots: apply pressure with your knuckles to sore spots, knead and pull the muscles, or sit against a solid surface to press into the pain.

Back pain relief options at home

At home, you have a wider array of options, including

  • sports massage from a trained therapist;
  • a visit to a medical care provider for prescription strength pain relief;
  • hydrotherapy involving application of cold packs;
  • rest and stretching.

All of these methods are aimed at bailing you out of the immediate situation, namely a sore back caused by hiking.

Once the pain passes, you have a choice:

You can ride the merry-go-round of hiking back pain as many hiking seasons as you'd like (or can afford, mentally or physically),


you can take preventive action.

Hiking back pain prevention:
look at your backpack

The first place to start: your backpack, and what's in it.

If you've never given much thought to how to buy a backpack, here are my thoughts on this important subject.

Need some specific tips for fitting a backpack to your body? Read this.

If you're satisfied that you are wearing the best backpack for your body, and it's adjusted correctly for your torso length and chest dimensions, turn your attention to what's in the pack.

In fact, turn the pack upside down, and paw through your pack contents after they hit the floor.

  • Anything fossilized or moldy has got to go.
  • If you haven't touched, let alone used, an item in the past 6 months, toss it.
  • Heavy or outdated items like antiquated head lamps or cracked water bottles, out they go.

The worthy goal here is to lighten up and pay attention to your gear.

Only carry what you need, truly need and use on a hike.

And start to investigate the merits of lightweight hiking gear here.

There's no judgement or blame implied.

I myself have been known to carry rock specimens for an entire season because I was too lazy to fish them out of the bottom of my pack, compounded by forgetting that I collected them in the first place.

So go on a little fishing expedition into the bowels of your pack, and toss the stuff you don't want to be carrying over hill and dale.

But consider adding a backpack chair to provide support and comfort while you're eating dinner.

Hiking back pain prevention:
back stretches

Your big muscle groups on the backside of your body work really hard while you hike.

Without getting into the long Latin names of these muscles, let's just say that your upper and lower deep back (shoulder and spine area) muscles are overlain with more "shallow" muscle groups.

Either the deep, or the superficial, back muscles could be giving you back pain.

  • Or both.
  • Double ouch.

A quick way to figure this out: press gently on the sore area, if you can reach it.

If you can't, place a tennis ball or similar round object on the floor and lower the sore spot onto the ball.

If gentle pressure doesn't make you holler OUCH, then keep pressing until you "sink into" the soft muscle tissue.

  • Of course, you are breathing calmly and deeply as you apply this pressure.

If you have to apply quite a bit of force to elicit the pain message, you're dealing with an unhappy deep muscle/muscle group, and pain relief is going to require back stretches and probably application of cold and warm compresses and a topical analgesic.

Go here to read about the different types of back stretches you can do to get some relief from back pain.

But be patient.

Back pain doesn't clear up instantly unless you mask the pain. And all that does is keep you on the back pain merry-go-round, right?

Prevention is the way to get off that "round and round and round you go" cycle. So apply the back pain relief strategies immediately, and then work on a long term strategy for pain free hiking.

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