Nordic walk for back health
According to the British Chiropractic Association almost 80% of us suffer back pain at some point in our lives with nearly a quarter suffering daily. Over half believe the cause is poor posture. Nordic walking is superb for helping with back pain. It strengthens the postural muscles and the deep abdominal (‘core’) muscles. Both are essential in supporting the back, especially the lumbar region which carries the weight of the upper body.
Nordic walking also actively improves our back health through its encouragement of the gentle rotation of the spine. This is where the upper body rotates at the waist as we walk. Liz Carver, one of our walkers who recently qualified as a Nordic walking instructor, has researched why rotation is so beneficial to back health. Here’s her report:
“On our recent Nordic Walking Instructors course, one of the things that hit me very strongly was the benefit of rotation for spinal health. Rotation is an aspect of the Nordic walking technique which people often find quite hard. Understanding a bit of what is happening when we rotate made me realise how important it is.
As you know, the spine is made up of 29 individual bones (plus the coccyx) in five different regions, each with different degrees of flexibility and with differing supporting roles.
Your spine, with its various curves, is designed to cope with a wide range of movement. Each spinal bone is connected and separated by intervertebral discs. The discs serve as shock absorbers and each one is made up of a spongy gel core, the nucleus pulposus, surrounded by fibrous tissue. What I didn’t know was that there are 23 of them, they make up a quarter of the entire spinal length and that they diffuse nutrients through their end plates.
Rotation of the spine is greatest in the thoracic and upper spine regions. When you rotate, the fibrous tissue surrounding the spongy core compresses and squidges (technical term!) the core. As you return and ‘unwind’, the spongy core soaks up or ‘imbibes’ fluid containing nutrients which keeps the disc spongy and performing at maximum shock absorptive capacity – protecting your spine and maintaining its potential for rotational movement (Reference 1).
Moreover, as we age, the spongy shock-absorbing gel of the core is less able to imbibe water and nutrients and potentially becomes dryer, which makes it even more important to keep our spines moving. (Reference 2)
So, whilst posture is a key factor in ensuring spinal health in the lumbar region, spinal rotation is crucial for keeping the intervertebral discs spongy and healthy and allowing our spines to move optimally. “
Are you up for the 1000 mile challenge?
Have you ever thought about how many miles you walk? Lots of you wear fitness trackers or use apps which count steps and distance, so you can tell how much you’ve walked in a day/week/month. This can all add up to a pretty tidy sum. But Country Walking magazine has upped the ante and is challenging people to walk a seemingly massive 1,000 miles during 2017.
Now we all like a bit of a challenge and the New Year is traditionally a time to set yourself some goals – but 1,000 miles – really?
Actually you’d be surprised at how achievable such an impressive target is. This hefty figure only amounts to 2.74 miles per day, around 6,000 steps (the government’s recommended daily total is 10,000 steps). You can choose either to count all your steps or just 'deliberate' walks depending on how much of a challenge you want. They certainly don't have to be Nordic walks.
We think this is such a great idea that we’re encouraging as many Bristol Nordic Walkers as possible to sign up. It’s really simple. Just click on this link to fill in the form. You can also join the 1000mile Facebook group.
There are lots of ways to track your mileage:
- Apps on your phone – such as MapMyWalk, Runkeeper (Marcus’s favourite) and Viewranger.
- A basic pedometer
- Activity trackers (like the fitbit, Jawbone and Apple watch)
Apps are best if you’re wanting to record only specific walks. Pedometers and activity trackers are geared towards recording the whole day’s activity so they’re great if you want to count all your steps.
So who’s up for it? About ten of our walkers have already signed up so there’s a great support network already. Let us know if you're keen to add your name. It’s being called the New Year Revolution.
What’s your pole height?
Using the correct height Nordic walking pole is important for both your comfort and your technique. A small difference in your pole height can make a big difference to both so give some thought as to what’s right for you. Here are a few pointers:
- Keep reviewing your pole height. Often, when you start Nordic walking, a shorter length pole will feel more comfortable. This is principally because you are still developing your technique and it is generally easier to learn on a shorter pole. As you become more proficient a longer pole may be more appropriate (you can get more rotation for a start). So keep your pole height under review and don’t rush into buying a fixed length pole – wait until you’re comfortable with the technique.
- As a rule of thumb, the way to measure your pole height is to stand on flat ground with your elbow tucked into your side and the pole vertical. Make sure you’re holding the pole handle in the right place and if you’re walking on soft ground it’s worth flicking the paw back/taking it off to get an accurate measure. Your forearm should be horizontal or slightly lower than horizontal (see main picture).
- There is a ‘textbook’ formula which is to multiply your height in cms by 0.68. In my view this does not work as well. For instance, I’m 5ft 6” (168cms) which translates into a pole height of 114cms. I prefer a longer pole than this – it suits my active walking style and straight-ish arm swing.
- Other factors than impact on your pole length include your leg length in relation to your height (if you have a long body and short legs you’re likely to need a shorter pole); your stride length; and your general range of motion.
- Fixed length poles can only be bought in 5cm increments. Most Nordic walkers don’t find this a problem but it’s worth trying adjustable poles if you don’t find the fixed poles comfortable. You could be an ‘in-betweener’.
- Different makes and styles of pole sometimes feel different lengths in practice, even though they measure the same. For instance the Exel Curve Pro feels longer than its straight counterpart. It’s always best to try a pole out before buying it if you possibly can, either borrowing it from us instructors or from a fellow walker if we don’t have the pole that you’re interested in.
- Always go with what feels right for you.
Liz’s back health references:
1) Adams, M; Bogduk, N; Burton, K; Dolan, P. ( 2006) The Biomechanics of Backpain, Published by Elsevier.
2) Antoniou, J; Steffen, T; Nelson, F; Winterbottom, N; Hollander, A. P; Poole, R. A; Aebi, M; Alini, M. (1996). “The human lumbar intervertebral disc: Evidence for changes in the biosynthesis and denaturation of the extracellular matrix with growth, maturation, ageing, and degeneration.” Journal of Clinical Investigation. 98 (4): 996–1003.