Back pain is not normally associated with running. So learning how to prevent lower back pain when running is important.
Usually, you expect to be out of breath, have weak legs and an overall feeling of exhaustion. But actually many runners report that they experience back pain when running.
Running is a high impact sport. There are many reasons why a runner may have back issues. A lot of time it can be attributed to bad form and not strong enough muscles to support this strenuous activity.
Running mechanics plays a large role in how good you’ll feel when you run or how hard it will be. The stronger and more flexible you are, the better runner you’ll be.
For those who have experienced back pain during or after a run, it can be painful and debilitating. So what brings on the back pain from running?
In this post, we will discuss the reasons why people experience back pain when running. Also, we will give advice on ways to prevent back when running.
Why Your Back Hurts During or After Running
Why should your back hurt when you run? It takes a lot of muscles working together to get you running. When a group of these muscles, like your legs, become fatigued then other muscles have to step in and make up for the deficit. Unfortunately this usually means your lower back has to do more work to keep you running. Keeping the body upright and moving means using a lot of body parts and if one of them is weak or has become tired then pain in other areas especially the back will occur. It is similar to the stress felt by your knees.
Lower back pain
During a run, the lower back and spine has to be strongly supported by the core muscles. B ut were not talking about your abdominal muscles that you see when you take your shirt off. Those are superficial muscles and aren’t the real muscles that support when you run. Instead there are deep core muscles.
They actually attach to the spine which provides stability and flexibility for movement of your back. Additional stability comes from the hips, hamstrings and glutes. When all these components are working together efficiently, running will feel easier. However, if any of these parts are weak, your form deteriorates and undue stress is put on other areas of the body.
This is especially true if you’re running long distances. Often times it’s the lower back that feels the strain and subsequently leads to pain. And in certain cases, an injury to the back will occur. This is why body mechanics, form and strength is vitality important to keep you running safely.
The other problems runners experience in their lower back include:
- A chronic pain radiating on the lower back indicates arthritis
- Muscle spasm is an acute pain that suddenly occurs on the lower back
- Sciatica is the chief cause for the sharp shooting pain felt in this area
Upper back pain
Another area often compromised when running is the upper back. Proper form comes into play here again. Most people usually don’t think about their head when they run, but it’s positioning is important. The position of the head is the main cause for pain in the upper back.
You don’t want to run with your head leading or extended out in front of your body. This creates an unnatural strain on the muscles of the upper back. These muscles will become fatigued easier and will eventually lead to back spasms.
Also, this might seem obvious but make sure you’re looking straight ahead. When fatigue starts to set in, our chin tends to stilt downward. With proper form, your head should be upright and your ears in line with your shoulders.
Watch Those Shoulders And Arms
Shoulders are another important thing to consider. They need to be relaxed and pulled back. If you’ve been running for an extended period of time and are becoming increasingly tired, the shoulders will start to pull forward in a hunched position.
Which in turn causes undue stress and tension in the upper back and neck. It also wastes a lot of energy because you’re not performing efficiently.
Don’t forget about your arms. The position of the arms during a run will also cause discomfort. Arms should be held close to the body at a 90-degree angle.
When the arms are too high and the elbows start to jut out, this causes your hands to cross over your body. This positioning will waste energy and fatigue will set in quicker. Subsequently, the muscles of the upper back will spasm and create pain.
How Can Pain be Prevented?
You don’t have to give up the sport you love. What you need are timely solutions to keep you healthy and injury free.
The varied position of the soles of running shoes plays an important role in your posture. Go to a store that specializes in running. They will analyze your gait and put you in the proper shoe. Also, remember running shoes do have a short lifespan.
You want to change them out every 300-500 miles of running. Switching out running shoes yearly is a must for runners doing a weekly run of 6 miles. Marathoners or runners that do multiple races a year might have to get new ones every 3-4 months.
Also having athletic insoles may help to absorb the impact of running. There are ones that are over the counter or specialty stores and podiatrist offer custom orthotics.
Core strengthening exercises
The pain you feel in the lower back will be dramatically reduced by doing core exercises. We not talking about sit-ups or crunches though. Strengthening the deep core muscles of the body makes it flexible and strong.
To train the deep abdominal muscles, you must do core exercises that require you to stabilize the body. Doing squats on a Bosu ball or single leg pistol squats on the ground help to work the needed muscles.
Try these recommended core strengthening workouts as a way to avoid back pain experienced while running:
- Bicycle crunches provide flexibility to the hips as well as builds strong abdominal muscles. Lay on the back on the ground with hands behind your head. Take your right knee and bring it up to your left elbow while keeping your left leg straight and off the ground. Alternate back and forth. Try to do 3 reps of 20.
- Ball pike exercises increase flexibility and mobility of the hips. The lower back and core are also strengthened with this workout. Start on all fours on the ground. One at a time, place each foot on an exercise ball. Then pull your feet to your chest while raising your hips into a V shape. This is a difficult move to do as many as you can. Ideally 3 sets of ten.
- Warrior three single leg lifts help to improve the stability and balance. Doing this particular workout also gives the hips greater flexibility, strengthens the hamstrings and glutes, and strengthens the core. Stand up straight with arms above your head and palms facing each other. Extend one leg back while your upper body hinges forward at the waist. Keep bending til your body in a T shape. Then straight back up to standing. Again this is a challenging move if you don’t have good balance. Try to do 10 on each side for 2-3 rounds.
Bad posture will also affect your running ability. Good posture has to be maintained in all daily activities to achieve maximum health benefits. Prolonged standing in one position, hunching over the computer or improper sitting positions all affect the muscles of the back.
When standing for long periods is unavoidable, the solution is to shift to another position after 10 minutes. Ideally, do a few minutes of light stretching if the situation permits.
Standing on hard surfaces for long periods will also affect your posture. To lessen the effect, wear shoes with support or cushioning features. If your workplace allows, trying ergonomic mats to ease the impact of a hard surface can help.
When You Sit
In cases where you are sitting for extended amounts of time, ensure that both buttocks are seated firmly. Keep your shoulders back and your spine elongated.
The chair should have an arch that supports your lower back with both feet easily rested on the floor. A new chair seen in the workplace is a balance ball chair. They are designed to strengthen core muscles as well as increase energy and productivity.
Spinal disc decompression
Running is considered as high-impact physical activity. One of the best ways to reverse the high-impact effects is by decompressing the spinal discs with the help of an inversion table.
The inversion table offers several health benefits other than spinal decompression, to include:
- Increased flexibility
- Muscle tension reliever as it realigns and elongates the spine
- Provides maximum stretch to shoulders, legs, upper back, and hips
- Increases the length of the spine
Changing The Surface
The spine gets a hard jolt every time running is done on asphalt and concrete surfaces. This shock goes from the foot all the way to spine. A hard surface doesn’t absorb any of the impacts. Over time the lower back muscles and spine become worn out with the jarring impact of running on pavement or cement.
The impact is considerably reduced if you run on a synthetic track and dirt trails. This is because the force is evenly distributed to other muscles of the body other than the spine alone.
Other Things To Consider
If you are training for a race, be careful not to increase your mileage too quickly. A good rule of thumb is adding 2 miles per week. Ramping up your mileage more than that can lead to an injury. Also, make sure you’re properly warmed up before you start running.
How To Warm Up
Start by doing dynamic stretching. This type of stretching involves doing the rapid movement with a range of motion without holding at the end. A couple of easy ones to do are high knees and leg swings.
For high knees, stand up straight with feet shoulder-width apart. Your arms are at a 90-degree angle at your waist with palms facing down. Then drive the right up to touch your right palm.
As soon as you make contact, start to lower the knee while simultaneously raising the left knee. This is a rapid movement that engages the hips, legs and core muscles. Do this for a few minutes at a comfortable pace.
To perform leg swings, stand upright with one hand against a wall or any surface that provides support. Your other hand is on your hip. Take the right leg and swing it in front of the left leg like a pendulum. Slowly increase the range of motion, then switch legs.
When you start to run, do a light jog for 5-10 minutes then increase to your normal speed. By doing this, you ensure that your muscles are ready to perform and you will help to avoid lower back pain while running.
The Cool Down
When you’re to the end of your run, slow down your pace for the last few minutes. Cool down and allow your heart rate to decrease and your breathing to return to normal.
Especially if you are one of those who likes to sprint to the finish. Stopping abruptly is not good for the body and might actually cause dizziness and nausea. Stretching afterward is extremely important.
Now that your muscles are warmed up, static stretching is good to do. This keeps the muscles flexible which in turn will decrease your chance of experiencing back pain when you run.
Here are some at-home first-aid remedies:
- Maximum bed rest of two days
- Application of cold or hot packs to the painful area.
- Gentle movements and walking around
- Minimal stretching or straining of the back while doing activities of daily living
- Avoid bending. If you have to pick something up from the floor, squat instead of bending.
A study done by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has found that lower back pain is caused when the body has a weak core. The deep abdominal muscles that attach to the spine need to be strong in order to stabilize the back.
If the vertebrae are not supported properly discomfort will occur in the back. And continuing to participate in high impact sports will lead to a possible injury.
This puts across the message that the best way to keep running and avoid pain or an injury is to strengthen your core.
Other helpful tips include running on softer surfaces, having proper shoes, and correct posture. Combine all these and you should be able to run pain-free.