by Diane Spicer
Hiking back pain: a hot (as in "ouch") 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. He worked a desk job, lifted weights, and was really bugged by back pain after a hike.
Note how we use a "rule in/rule out" approach to figuring out reasons for hiking back pain.
None of this is medical advice, just things to consider as you think about hiking back pain.
"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 choice of backpack.
If your pack 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 this for some tips on how to get a good fit.
Another thought: How do you hold your head while hiking?
A 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 puts strain on your neck and upper back muscles.
Your head is as heavy as a bowling ball, and your hard working neck and shoulder 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.
Try to stay conscious about your head/neck posture next time you hike.
If you have access to a trained sports 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.
Then, of course, it's up to you to do them!
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).
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 for a male, as it would show up in lower back pain more often than upper back pain.
But it's not unheard of."
By the way, that's the level of detail you can expect if you send me a hiking question.
Visit the hiking questions archive for more hiking Q & A.
I hope this gives you a few ideas to explore if you suffer from hiking back pain.
Masking your back pain with medication will get you back on the trail, but it won't uncover, and solve, the underlying problem(s).
For more approaches to back pain relief on the trail and at home, including prevention, read this.
For more ideas about how to take good care of yourself:
Reduce Hiking Back Pain
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