Hiking Back Pain: Consider these Variables

Hiking back pain: a hot topic!

I receive many types of questions about hiking pain. Here's a response to one hiker's question about post-hiking pain in the upper back and neck:

"Howdy, Andrew. Glad you didn't let the "for her" part of my website deter you from asking your question! Back pain sucks, that's for sure.

My first thought would be in regards to your pack. If it doesn't distribute the weight appropriately between your sternum (breast bone) and your pelvic area, then it's going to show up in your neck muscles and the rhomboids (between your scapulae, or shoulder blades). Can you borrow or rent other packs, to test out this theory? Take a look at my site, under gear/packs, for some tips on how to get a good fit.

Another thought: how do you hold your head while hiking? Your desk job could be training your neck muscles to crane forward (computer work, reading, etc.), and you are using that same pattern on the trail. This is putting strain on your neck and upper back. Your head is as heavy as a bowling ball, and those muscles will get weary if you're always tugging them out of alignment with your back. This tends to show up more quickly when you walk, as opposed to when you sit. That explains why the pain gets your attention more quickly when you're away from your desk. Try to stay conscious about your head/neck posture next time you hike - do you feel as if you're pulling your neck outof alignment with your torso?

If you have access to a trained massage therapist, s/he could give you some feedback about the amount of tension in these muscles, and could recommend stretches for before & after hiking.

One more idea: maybe your weight lifting routine needs to be re-designed. If you're training some muscles to be stronger than others, that could give you an imbalance which shows up when you're bearing weight (as in carrying your pack). Do you have access to a library or any anatomy books where you can see which weight lifting moves train which muscles? Or maybe there's a personal trainer you could consult?

And I just had another thought: what are you wearing on your feet? If there's a significant difference in heel height, or ankle support, between week day footwear and hiking boots, that could be throwing off your back muscles. This is probably the least likely explanation, as it would show up in lower back pain more often than upper back pain. But it's not unheard of."



So I hope this gives you a few ideas to explore if you suffer from hiking back pain. Please let me know if you have other pain related questions, and check out my information on self care. I want you out on a trail and enjoying life, not hobbled by pain! Use the contact form below to send questions or thoughts about the hot (as in inflamed , unfortunately) topic of hiking back pain.


Hiking back pain is something you want to avoid. Return HOME for more hiking information you can use to stay strong and happy on the trail.


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