- Lower Back Pain – Why It Happens to Runners and How to Get Rid of It
- Why do we get back pain while running, anyway?
- What can you do to prevent back pain while running?
- What kinds of exercises can you do to prevent back pain?
- Why does your lower back hurt when you run?
- How can you prevent lower back pain while running?
- Request an Appointment at The Orthopedic Clinic Today
- Is Running Putting Your Lower Back at Risk? The Research on Lumbar Pain Risk Factors
- The research behind lower back pain in runners
- Elite athletes and lower back pain
- Hip flexor tightness and lower back pain
- In summary
- Running and Lower Back Pain
- Common Lower Back Injuries for Runners
- Self-Care for Low Back Muscle Strain
- Running and Damaged Discs in the Back
- How to Run Safely with Back Pain
- Improve Running Form
- Commit to a Smart Running Program
- When to Return to Running after Experiencing Low Back Pain
- Rule for Returning to Running:
- Prior to returning to your full and normal training activities, insure the following:
- Runners–How to Fix Your Lower Back Pain
- Lower Back Pain After Running
- Least Invasive Procedures
- Contact International Spine Institute for Back Pain Relief
- What Causes Low Back Pain?
- Symptoms of Low Back Pain
- How Does Jogging Help Low Back Pain?
- How Do I Start Jogging For Low Back Pain?
- Book a Physiotherapy Assessment For More Information
Lower Back Pain – Why It Happens to Runners and How to Get Rid of It
By Jamie King
Competitive Ultra Runner
When you go out for a long hard run, you expect to have tired legs, burning lungs, and general fatigue; what you don’t often expect to have is back pain. But surprisingly enough, back pain amongst runners is a very common thing, particularly in less experienced runners, or those with improper running technique or weak back muscles (which is most of us!). And if you’ve ever experienced back pain after (or even during) a run, you know just how annoying and painful it can be.
Why do we get back pain while running, anyway?
If you think about it, your back has an enormous role to play when it comes to running. When you run, you have to hold your body vertical — sometimes for a very long time — and your back has to work with the rest of your body to keep you moving and upright.
When it comes to your lower back, it’s all about core strength, and the coordination of your legs. When you run, your core muscles have to work hard to support your spine and lower back, while your core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings have to join forces to keep you stable. When one muscle or a group of muscles becomes fatigued, your lower back has to work harder to keep you upright and on your feet, which can cause pain, or worst case scenario — injury.
And if you’re experiencing more pain in your upper back instead of your lower back, it’s often as a result of your head position. Yep, you heard right. A lot of upper back pain is a result of having your head leading your body — jutting out in front of your body — causing unnecessary tension and stress on the upper back. Another likely culprit of upper back pain is your arms. If you’re holding your arms up too tight or maybe even too high, or tensing your shoulders up towards your ears (which is common when the body is fatigued), it can cause strain on your upper back.
What can you do to prevent back pain while running?
To prevent back pain while running, the best thing you can do is to work on strength and flexibility. You need a strong core to support your spinal muscles, and strong, flexible legs (glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings) to hold the body upright and stable while you run.
This is why cross-training — incorporating strengthening movements into your running routine — is so important! If you want to run for a long time, you have to protect your body by strengthening the muscles that keep your body moving and upright — it’s as simple as that.
What kinds of exercises can you do to prevent back pain?
Thankfully, there are ways to lessen the stress on your back and make running a little more comfortable — well, unless you ask your legs, of course.
If you’re looking to prevent back pain while running, try the following 3 strengthening exercises:
1. Ball pikes
One of my favorite core strengthening exercises is ball pikes — this exercise not only challenges your core and back but also helps to increase hip mobility and flexibility. To begin, rest your shins on top of an exercise ball and place your hands on the floor, slightly more than shoulder width apart, with your arms straight. Roll the ball in towards your chest, while lifting your hips as high as you can, without bending your knees, and then pause at the top and roll it back slowly. Do as many as you can, between 10-20, for 3 rounds.
2. Warrior three hamstring extensions with leg lifts
In my opinion, if you wanted to do one move for the rest of your life that would help strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, improve hip flexibility, strengthen your core, and also help to improve your balance and stability, this is the move you should be doing. To begin, stand with feet about hips width apart. Bring one knee in towards your chest, and if possible, extend the leg out in front of you. Reach your arms up overhead, palms facing inward (you can hold onto a medicine ball for a more advanced movement). Pause. Then begin to move the leg behind you, bending forward from the hips until your body forms a “T” shape. Repeat on one side 10 times and then switch legs. Try to do this for 3 rounds.
3. Bicycle crunches
Having a strong core and flexible hips are both essential when it comes to running without back pain, which is why I love bicycle crunches. They work to strengthen your core while also challenging your hip flexibility and mobility. To begin, lie on your back with your shins parallel to the ceiling. Begin to draw one leg out in front of you, and touch the opposite elbow to the opposite knee. And then switch, pausing each time with elbow to knee and heel hovering off of the ground. Do 20 bicycle crunches (10 each side) for 3 rounds.
Running is a high-impact activity and can cause repetitive stress on the body, especially the lower back. Cross-training with these 3 moves combined with stretching the calves, hamstrings, and back body is a sure way to prevent back pain before it starts.
About Jamie King:
Jamie is the founder of Fit Approach, a popular online fitness community where bloggers, brands, and fitness enthusiasts come together over their love for sweat and their #sweatpink lifestyle. She is also a 500-hour RYT and owner of Flex & Flow, a popular training and yoga studio, as well as a competitive ultramarathon runner and all-around fitness enthusiast. Jamie has had the pleasure of teaching fitness and yoga since 2005 and is simply in love with all things movement.
When she’s not dripping with sweat, you can usually find her snuggling or playing ball with Abbie, her Vizsla puppy or exploring all of the great restaurants and beautiful outdoors in the PNW. Connect with her on Instagram or on her blog!
- Pain Management
Trained runners or people who run regularly are well-versed in the aches and pains that come from training and running – regardless of whether you’re running a 5K or a marathon. For those who have recently picked up the sport, these aches and pains can be enough to deter you from continuing.
Regardless of your experience level, if you feel lower back pain while running, you may stop and wonder if you’re pushing yourself too hard, or if your running form needs improvement. You need relief – and fast.
Why does your lower back hurt when you run?
Pain in your lower back while running can be caused by several things. If you’re an experienced runner, pain in the lower back is likely caused by a muscle strain, pinched nerve, or arthritis.
If you’re new to running, your muscles may not be strong enough yet to support the strain of running – especially long distances. Muscles that can impact your lower back and cause pain include:
These muscles support your back. As you run and become fatigued, your lower back begins to pick up the slack and works harder to keep you upright and stable. Weak muscles increase your risk of injury, so it’s important that you strengthen these areas along with your cardio workout.
In some cases, lower back pain may be so severe that you double over. If this is the case, you should contact your doctor immediately. Pain shooting down your legs or such severe pain that you can’t stand up straight may be signs of something more serious like a spinal injury. Your healthcare provider can properly diagnose the cause of your pain.
How can you prevent lower back pain while running?
If the cause of your lower back pain is muscle-related, then the best thing you can do to prevent it from getting worse and alleviate symptoms is through strength and flexibility training. By strengthening your core, hamstrings, hips, and other muscles, you can reduce lower back pain and prevent spasms. Flexibility, especially in the hamstrings and glutes, will help reduce risks of pinched nerves and tears. Some exercises that you can do for cross-training include:
- Knee-to-chest stretches
- Lower back rotational stretches
- Cat stretches
If strengthening your muscles seems to agitate your lower back or symptoms while running worsen, you should contact your doctor immediately. The cause of your back pain may be chronic or more severe than simple muscle or flexibility training can solve, and you may need interventional pain management.
Improve Your Running Form
A factor that often gets overlooked is your running form. While there isn’t a universal technique that every runner should follow, having proper form decreases the stress on your knees, hips, and lower back. A good rule of thumb is to use longer strides, with a cadence between 170 and 190.
Request an Appointment at The Orthopedic Clinic Today
At The Orthopedic Clinic, we want you to live your life in full motion. If lower back pain when running is making life uncomfortable, let us help you. We’ll tailor a treatment plan that’s best for your lifestyle and get you back to doing the things you love.
Call us at (386) 255-4596 to schedule an appointment.
Is Running Putting Your Lower Back at Risk? The Research on Lumbar Pain Risk Factors
Back pain is very common with as many as 70 percent of the general population experiencing a bout at least once in their life.
But what about back pain in runners? Does running put any increased stress on your back, and if so, does it leave you at a greater risk for injury? What causes back problems in runners?
That’s where we’ll turn our attention in this article.
The research behind lower back pain in runners
The first study we’ll look at, published in 1990 by Garbutt and coworkers at Sunderland Polytechnic in England, used a very creative way to measure stress on the back while running.
Surmising that the impacts absorbed by the back during running affect the overall length of the spine (probably by compressing the discs between the vertebrae), Garbutt, et al., set out to measure the height of a group of marathon runners—some of whom had a history of lower back pain—before and after a series of 30-minute runs at 70, 85, and 100 percent of a marathon pace.1
Surprisingly, the study found a significant correlation between spinal shrinkage, running speed, and distance covered. The longer and faster you run, the shorter you get (temporarily of course)!
The amount of shrinkage was small but notable; the heights of the runners dropped by more than a quarter of an inch after a 30-minute run at marathon pace.
But, more importantly, the authors showed that the degree of spinal shrinkage was not related to whether the runner in question had a history of lower back pain. This provides some evidence that the spine is well-equipped to handle the loads involved with running, even at fast speeds.
Elite athletes and lower back pain
A more direct examination for the relationship between running and lower back pain was published by T. Videman, et al., in 1995.2 Looking at a questionnaires from almost 1,000 former elite athletes in a variety of sports and 620 control subjects, the authors examined the rates of back pain by sport.
In a smaller sample, the researchers examined MRI scans of the lower back of about two dozen runners, weight lifters, shooters, and soccer players. Among athletes, lower back pain was significantly less common than in the general population.
Additionally, in the MRI studies, weight lifters and soccer players were found to have an increased rate of degeneration and disc bulging in their lower back, while runners and shooters were not significantly different than the general population.
While the runners appeared to have healthier backs than the sedentary controls and the weight-lifting athletes, the authors found no benefit (or drawback) to heavier training loads in the runners when it came to avoiding back pain.
But what about the runners that do get back pain?
Hip flexor tightness and lower back pain
An older study which investigated possible causes for back problems in runners was published in 1985 by Delanie Bach and colleagues at Stanford University.3 A group of runners had their hip flexibility evaluated and compared to that of a control group of sedentary subjects. The runners had significantly limited ability to flex their hip with their knee straight, indicating that they had notably tighter hamstring muscles compared with the control group.
While there was no significant difference between the runners and control groups when it came to hip extension, the authors deemed both groups to have excessive tightness owing to the fact that many of the subjects sat for 50 percent or more of the day.
They surmised that hip flexor tightness could influence back pain by tugging the pelvis into a more forwardly-rotated position.
However, the authors did not find any relationship between muscle tightness and back pain in the group of runners, perhaps because only ten of the subjects had back pain—not enough to establish statistical significance.
So, the good news is that the back seems well-adapted to handling the stresses associated with running, seeing as there is no increased degeneration in the spines of long-time runners.
In fact, there appears to be a beneficial effect with regards to running and low back pain, seeing as fewer runners report having back pain than do members of the general population.
However, there’s a lack of scientific work on causative factors and treatments for low back pain in runners.
Muscle tightness of the hip flexors and perhaps the hamstrings may play a role, but there’s a lot more work to be done.
Fortunately, as Dr. Charles J. Gatt Jr. writes in a 1997 book chapter on low back pain in runners,
“Most cases of low back pain are musculoligamentous in character and have a relatively short, self-limiting course…In general, running does not cause lower back problems but may exacerbate existing conditions.”
Gatt goes on to describe how prolonged rest for back pain has been replaced with clinical advice encouraging patients to return to work and return to working out earlier, as this has been shown to be beneficial for lower back pain.
So perhaps the best advice if you have back pain is to:
- listen to your body
- moving back into running as soon as you can do it without pain
- look at other factors in your life that could be causing your back pain
And, as long as you aren’t too bothered by being a quarter-inch shorter after your runs, you can take comfort in knowing that your overall risk for back pain as a runner is lower than if you weren’t one!
Running and Lower Back Pain
Running is an activity that involves repetitive stress and impact, sometimes for a long duration. People who have an underlying lower back problem can find running or jogging makes their pain worse or leads to additional types of pain, such as sciatica (leg pain, weakness, or numbness).
When running or jogging leads to more or additional back pain, it is important to know when to seek treatment and what types of treatment to expect.
- Read more about Sport Injuries, Back Injuries, and Back Pain
Common Lower Back Injuries for Runners
Lower back pain often comes on quickly, after bending or lifting the wrong way, or perhaps after running too far before warming up.
Lower back pain comes in many different varieties, the most benign of which is muscular strains and pains. It is characterized by lower back muscle spasm and pain that is centralized in the lower back. This type of pain does not travel into the buttock or legs (radiating pain is known as sciatica, or radiculopathy).
See Lower Back Muscle Strain Symptoms
Self-Care for Low Back Muscle Strain
Low back pain brought on by muscle strain is best treated by a variety of self care techniques, and perhaps stopping the running for a week or so as those symptoms resolve. Effective ways to relieve lower back pain caused by muscle strain usually include one or a combination of the following:
- A short period of rest (one or two days) if the pain is severe
- Gentle stretching
- Ice or cold packs, applied for 10 to 20 minutes at a time
- Heat therapy or moist heat
- Over the counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol)
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. ibuprofen, naprosyn)
This type of pain will often improve over the course of one to three weeks just by activity restriction.
- For more in-depth information, see The P.R.I.C.E. Protocol Principles on Sports-health.com.
Running and Damaged Discs in the Back
A more problematic form of lower back pain for runners is low back pain related to structural problems in the lower back, such as:
- Herniated Disc
- Degenerative Disc Disease
In This Article:
- Running and Lower Back Pain
- Runners: When to Seek Treatment for Lower Back Pain
- Runners: How to Prevent Low Back Pain
- Video: If My Back or Joints Hurt, Should I Work Through the Pain?
The disc is the shock absorber of the lower back. When running or jogging, the repetitive impact on the spine puts stress on the disc. If one already has a damaged disc, the repetitive stress that can lead to increasing symptoms. Runners who find that they have consistent and steady lower back pain after a workout should consider getting a thorough evaluation by a spine physician.
- For more in-depth information, see Common Running Injuries: Back Pain on Sports-health.com.
How to Run Safely with Back Pain
It is best to allow low-mileage days to break in a new pair of shoes. Some people find a pair of shoes they particularly like and purchase several pairs that they can alternate over time, or have a backup pair when the original pair finally wears out.
When planning for a long run, consider using Vaseline or another skin barrier to protect the skin around the toe web spaces, toenails, and heels. This tactic is also valuable to protect the skin from water exposure if running on wet terrain or in the rain.
Improve Running Form
Running form can minimize impact on the back and other muscle groups involved in running. Advice on running form includes:
- Keeping the chest aimed outward, with shoulders back and relaxed.
- Pumping arms only forward and backward, never across the bod.y
- Developing a comfortable striking motion from mid-foot to toes.
- Taking shorter, faster strides rather than larger, bounding strides.
Running with improper form can dramatically increase the stress to the back and can contribute to joint injuries (hip, knee and ankle) developing over time. Some runners use a heel strike that can dramatically increase the stress on the bones, discs, muscles and ligaments of the spine. A visit to a running coach, who will take a video and provide an analysis and coaching, can go a long way in improving one’s running form.
See Common Running Injuries: Pain in the Ankle or Back of the Heel
Commit to a Smart Running Program
Studies have shown that overtraining can be detrimental to overall conditioning as well as cause overuse injuries, such as stress fractures.1 In order to minimize the risk of overtraining:
- Run only 3 to 4 times per week.
- Do not increase both the distance and speed simultaneously; increase either the distance or the speed, and increase only gradually.
- Incorporate cross training and stamina training into workout schedules.
- Include at least one rest day per week in workout schedules.
- Do not increase daily running totals by more than 2 miles per week.
If back pain occurs or persists despite these measures, take a break and seek medical attention from a doctor trained in sports medicine and/or back conditions. Much like being committed to improving running by adhering to a regular schedule, when injured one needs to be committed to appropriate rest and not try to sneak back into the running schedule.
To best achieve running goals, take the time to fully recover and then start over with conditioning and stamina exercises.
When to Return to Running after Experiencing Low Back Pain
Low back pain (LBP) can be so severe and debilitating that it can completely derail your training.
It’s hard to run if your back, buttocks or leg hurts. You either won’t try to do it or you try to suffer through it only to be rewarded with worsening symptoms later on. However, initial activity and exercise are critical when treating LBP.
One critical indicator that you are ready to return to running is whether or not you can walk with a normal gait. In particular, can you walk normally with a longer stride length during your normal gait cycle? The ability to walk normally (notice that I didn’t say without discomfort) is an important milestone as it means that the spine is being stabilized well enough from the core musculature and that the nerves in the leg are not too tight or inflamed to tolerate and accommodate for the stretch that will occur from jogging or running.
If you are unable to walk normally, then I don’t recommend that you begin running yet. First, focus on returning to normal activities (including walking). The emphasis should be on regaining lumbar and lower extremity range of motion in addition to performing core and lumbar stabilization exercises.
photo credit: Practical Cures; FlickrCC
Everyone’s recovery will be different. It should be entirely symptom dependent as to whether or not you completely stop running. There are times when the pain can be so severe that running is not an option. Other times, the pain is minor, so gentle jogging can still be performed. Listen to your body on what it can handle. The pain will tell you if you need to stop.
If the pain worsens, then taper back or stop running for a period of time as you rehabilitate. Avoid any form of bicycling. Instead, exercising in the pool (swimming or aqua jogging) can be highly effective in maintaining cardiovascular fitness and VO2 max. Utilizing an elliptical trainer may also be an option.
Rule for Returning to Running:
Follow the rule of thumb for movement: If the pain worsens by spreading peripherally down the buttock and into the leg and/or foot, then the condition is worsening. You must stop that activity. If the pain centralizes and returns back toward the spine (even if the pain worsens slightly), then keep moving as the condition is actually improving.
- Don’t resume your running or jogging program until you can walk normally at a quick pace.
- If you have stopped running for a period of time, be sure to slowly taper back into your running as your back begins to feel better. Don’t quickly resume your prior training volume. Instead, taper back up.
- Prior to running, perform a very thorough warm up (complete with press-ups, superman exercises, and bridging). Then transition into a running specific warm up at a very slow pace.
- Continue with the strengthening program at least until you resume your full volume of training.
- Although you will need to progress and train on uneven ground and hills, initially start with level terrain only.
- Initially limit your running distance. I recommend starting with a distance approximately 50-75% of your pre-injury distance.
- Initially start with a slower pace. Don’t immediately progress back into very intense running activities, such as interval training or hill repeats, until you have worked back up to your previous running distances and paces without pain. This may take 4-6 weeks or more and is very dependent on the severity of the case.
I often advise a run/walk routine as you progress back into running. It can be as frequent as one minute of jogging followed by one minute of walking. Taper up the time you’re jogging during each new session.
Prior to returning to your full and normal training activities, insure the following:
- Complete lumbar mobility has returned.
- If you experienced leg pain, your involved leg is as flexible as the other.
- Your hip mobility on both sides is equal.
- Your involved leg is as strong as the other leg, particularly hip abduction (glutes medius) and the hip external rotators. Test this by jumping up and down on one leg. Do you feel strong? Is there pain associated with this? If the strength isn’t there or the pain remains, you are not ready to taper up to full training activities.
- You can jog, run, sprint, and jump without pain.
With proper treatment, low back pain (LBP) should resolve in as quickly as two weeks. Severe episodes can take 4-6 weeks or longer. Continue with your rehabilitation until you are performing all exercises and running normally.
I highly recommend continuing with a lower extremity stretching protocol and lumbar and pelvis stabilization exercises as a method of prevention for future episodes of low back pain. There are countless “core” exercises and back stretches that you can perform, but which ones are best to help you to recover faster and experience less pain? Research is clear that performing proper core exercises and particularly, lumbar stabilization exercises are the most effective treatment modality for LBP.
If you want to learn how to self-treat your low back and learn how to effectively exercise and work the core muscles in order to prevent or treat LBP, .
If you are currently suffering from LBP and/or have experienced it in the past or you desire to prevent the most common complaint in today’s society, then you need to check out Treating Low Back Pain (LBP) during Exercise and Athletics.
I have designed this complete guide and system to help runners just like you (and me) prevent, treat, and manage LBP so that you don’t have to waste any training days because of ineffective treatment measures.
Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine or other professional health care services, including the giving of medical advice. No health care provider/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at your own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Do not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition you may have. Please seek the assistance of your health care professionals for any such conditions.
Many runners experience back pain, especially lower back pain, because of the repetitive stress and impact running puts on the body for a significant duration of time. If all of the bones in the vertebrae and the other vertebral articulations in the spine are functioning well, then your back has no problems. It’s when these vertebrae are aggravated that causes the pain.
In addition, one key to lower back health is the pelvis. The sacroiliac (or SI) joints move well in a normal running gait, but if the SI joints are not moving well, it can add wear and tear to the lower back area.
If you already have lower back pain, running may exacerbate it. Lower back pain is common among new runners or runners who have taken some time off and come back too strong and too quickly.
There are three types of common pain in the lower back: muscle-related pain, bone-related pain, and discogenic pain, according to Jordan Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and creator of Runner’s World’s IronStrength workout.
Identifying Symptoms of Lower Back Pain
Muscle-related pain occurs on either side of the lower part of your spine. You’ll know you have it if you feel spasms or feel pain on one side of your spine or the other, especially when you twist or move, says Metzl.
Bone-related pain feels like general achiness throughout the entire area of your lower back. If you’re over 65, chances are that you’re experiencing arthritic back pain, which is when your bones rub together because you’ve lost the cushion between them, adds Metzl.
“With discogenic pain, this is characterized by pain that gets worse when you bend forward, and most importantly, shoots down your legs,” says Metzl. If you suspect discogenic pain, he advises seeing a doctor right away.
Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Muscle-related back pain happens when the muscles that surround your back—your core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings—aren’t strong, which forces your back muscles to pick up the slack. “If you have weak hip and gluteal muscles, for example, as they become fatigued during a run, your lower back is forced to work harder to keep you upright and stable, and you become vulnerable to injury,” Metzl says.
Bone-related pain may be caused by arthritis, and discogenic pain is caused by a bulging or slipped disc, he says. You should see your doctor if you suspect you have either of these.
Treating Lower Back Pain
If you’re experiencing bone- or muscle-related pain, there are stretches and exercises you can do to relieve the discomfort you’re feeling.
First and foremost, Metzl recommends foam rolling your back. “The idea is to loosen up the muscles that are aching and tight,” he says. “It’s like a deep-tissue massage you can do every single day.”
Rolling out your hamstrings is also a good idea because if you have tight hamstrings, it accentuates the lordotic curve—or inward curve—in your lumbar spine. “By loosening up your hamstrings, it can take a lot of the pressure off your lower back,” he says.
If these options aren’t working, your doctor can perform an X-ray, which is the best way to view your bones and muscles to diagnose any specific problems.
For discogenic pain, seek treatment from your doctor immediately.
“If you’re getting pain shooting down your legs into your toes, or if you’re bent over like a human comma, just go to your doctor,” Metzl says. Your doctor will likely perform an MRI, which is the best way to diagnose this type of pain. Epidural injections, and in some cases surgery, might be recommended.
Preventing Lower Back Pain
Developing a solid base of running first and giving your body time to adapt to the stress running places on your back will decrease your risk of back injury.
Strength training is key when it comes to preventing lower back pain. “I can’t emphasize this enough: Strong muscles, strong core muscles, and a strong kinetic chain will take load of an achy back,” Metzl says. Having strong core muscles is especially important because these muscles are located on both sides of your spine and work to support it. Among some of Metzl’s favorite exercises to strengthen your muscles and prevent lower back pain are mountain climbers and planks.
Yoga and physical therapy are also helpful in many cases.
Runners–How to Fix Your Lower Back Pain
Running has a reputation for giving the body a pounding, and for some runners with lower back pain that can be a very real experience. For others, running itself is fine but the pain appears afterwards. The solution is the same in either case, and believe it or not it doesn’t involve stretching.
The solution is also the same if you have back pain and aren’t even a runner! This is because, unlike many common running injuries that are produced by the distinctive way we move when we run, lower back pain is a more general problem that can be triggered or aggravated by running but doesn’t really come from running.
As a Feldenkrais practitioner I’ve had a lot of clients with lower back pain, both runners and nonrunners. This is because lower back pain is generally a very easy thing to sort out through Feldenkrais lessons. We eat back pain for breakfast, in other words.
My clients with lower back pain have certain things in common. We’ll look at those in a moment, but first let me clarify that I’m not talking about sciatica, where pain radiates down a leg, or spinal stenosis or spondolysthesis or any other back condition. I’m talking about garden-variety, the-doctor-can’t-find-anything-wrong-with-your-back kind of back pain.
How to Cause Back Pain
Generally speaking, people with lower back pain focus on stretching and/or relaxing their backs. Sometimes this brings temporary relief, and other times it just seems to irritate the back. However I’ve never seen a person with low back pain for whom tense back muscles were the primary problem.
The muscles may indeed be tense but that comes about as the result of something else going on, and no matter how much you stretch them you aren’t addressing the real issue.
Very frequently, that issue is limited hip joint range of motion. The freedom of your legs to move comes in large part from your hip joints–ball-and-socket joints designed to make quite large movements possible. By comparison, the range of motion your spine can contribute is quite limited.
Hip joints allow the thighs to lift up in front (flex), lengthen backwards (extend), lift out to the side (abduct), come towards your center or even cross to the other side (adduct) and turn inwards and outwards (rotate internally and externally).
When you run you need to be able to do all of these things in both hip joints. However most of us semi-sedentary adults have lost track of how to do them all as easily as we should.
If you move your leg but don’t allow the necessary action in your hip joint, then your pelvis gets pulled along and this results in your leg pulling on your back, sometimes with a great deal of force. Then your back “pulls back” because your nervous system correctly identifies an unhealthy demand. And voila, tense back muscles and a sore back.
Even worse is when only one hip joint has limited range of motion, since that creates an asymmetrical pull on the back and that can set up not just achiness, but spasms as well, as your nervous system tries to prevent your back from being pulled ever deeper into a twist in one direction only.
Then trying to stretch your back means trying to fight your brain’s efforts to protect you. So of course as soon as the stretch is over (or within a day) the tension is back again.
Asymmetrical upper body movement habits can have the same effect. For instance a habit of bending a bit to one side or turning your shoulders one direction and not the other.
And finally, the opposite extreme of excessive pelvic stability can create a chronically achy or tense back as well. Because while on the one hand you don’t want your legs dragging on your back due to lack of freedom at your hip joints, on the other hand you do need your pelvis to move in coordination with your legs to facilitate your shift of body weight from leg to leg.
An effort to interfere with that movement (or simply a habit of not moving your pelvis) requires a lot of tension in your trunk, including your back muscles. It also increases your impact because your weight isn’t in the right place on footstrike and your trunk can’t function as part of your spring system.
A couple of years ago when I had the opportunity to try some things in a gait lab I compared myself allowing my pelvis to move and trying to hold it still, with this surprising effect.
How to Relieve Lower Back Stress
Unsurprisingly, my first recommendation is that you stop stretching your back and focus instead on hip joint mobility of all kinds. This should be done in combination with movement of your trunk rather than while trying to hold your trunk still.
Chances are that if you switched from back stretches to glute, hamstring, quad, hip flexor, and adductor (inner thigh) stretches today you’d feel some improvement right away. However I don’t recommend static stretches, and here’s why.
Instead, I recommend dynamic or active isolated stretches, since they work through a range of motion and enlist your nervous system to help you become more flexible and mobile.
It will be more powerful and long-lasting, however, to work on changing some of the movement habits that resulted in your back pain to begin with. For that you’ll want a Feldenkrais lesson–probably more than one. As I said at the outset, this method is really good with back pain.
I’ve put together my best Feldenkrais lesson for runners’ lower back pain and a video of my favorite sequence of active isolated stretches to create a resource to help your back feel better as soon as possible. Get it here:
Lower Back Pain After Running
Least Invasive Procedures
If non-surgical conservative measures aren’t helping, and you’re still in pain after six to 12 weeks, your doctor may then turn to least invasive procedures, such as stem cell therapy. It is a procedure promising effective pain relief results and a quicker recovery than traditional spine surgery.
Stem cell therapy provides you with a least invasive treatment option when you’re dealing with discogenic lower back pain. In this procedure, your surgeon uses the stem cells from your own body in to treat your discogenic and degenerative pain.
Stem cell therapy offers three primary benefits:
- Rejuvenate: It enhances the natural ability of your body to heal itself. Damaged spinal discs can’t recruit the important cells required for repairing and regenerating and don’t have the blood supply. This is where stem cell therapy comes in.
- Regenerate: The surgeon takes your own stem cells from your bone marrow and delivers them to your damaged spinal disc, helping your body regenerate and repair healthy disc material which leads to reduced symptoms of low back pain.
- Restores physical function: Stem cell therapy helps patients return to work, play and physical activity without the need for invasive spinal surgery.
Contact International Spine Institute for Back Pain Relief
If you’re experiencing low back pain after running, contact International Spine Institute and let us relieve your back pain. We provide a sophisticated practice offering you the least invasive treatment options to meet your individualized needs.
Because our treatment options are least invasive, you’ll experience a quicker recovery and be able to get back to living a pain-free lifestyle. We pride ourselves on making you feel as comfortable as possible while putting your mind at ease when it comes to spinal and lower back pain care. Contact us today for your traditional and virtual consultation to see how we can help you.
Short answer, yes. A systematic review by Meng and Yue (2014) found that aerobic exercise can improve chronic low back pain.
Jogging is a form of aerobic exercise and therefore could improve your chronic low back pain, but it’s important to remember that running is a high-impact form of exercise and simply not suitable for everyone. It’s also important to keep in mind that a complex combination of conditions, biomechanics, and emotions cause low back pain.
Here we’ll discuss the various causes of low back pain, explain how jogging helps, and give you tips to get started and stay safe.
What Causes Low Back Pain?
You might have wondered, “why does my low back hurt?”
The answer is a complicated one, but there are common conditions that can cause your back to ache. If you’re between 30 and 60 years of age, your low back pain is more likely to be caused by:
- Muscle strain
- Degenerative disc disease
- Bulging or ruptured discs
- Skeletal irregularities
- Weak core muscles
Symptoms of Low Back Pain
While different conditions present pain in a variety of ways, common low back pain symptoms include:
- Stiffness that makes walking or standing difficult
- Deep dull pain felt in the thigh, butt, and groin area that travels up and down the spine
- Dull aching pain that may worsen when sitting
- Muscle spasms, from mild to severe
- Skin that’s sore to the touch
How Does Jogging Help Low Back Pain?
One of the most common causes of low back pain is weak core muscles.
Jogging uses a complex combination of muscles, ligaments, and of course your skeletal system, giving a full body workout. This whole body workout helps strengthen muscles especially core muscles, which can help decrease your pain! So, when done correctly, jogging can help:
- Reduce overall pain
- Increase function
- Improve your state of mind
In addition to overall pain reduction and strengthened core muscles, cardio workouts (like running or jogging) can help you lose weight, decrease insulin resistance, and lower your blood pressure too!
How Do I Start Jogging For Low Back Pain?
You might be asking, “how much jogging do I have to do to see a benefit?”
While the exact amount will be different for everyone, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week in at least 10-minute increments. A 2007 study in Physical Therapy Journal, found that this increase in activity resulted in a 41% reduction in pain, a 31% improvement in function, and a 35% reduction in stress.
Book a Physiotherapy Assessment For More Information
But wait! Remember that jogging can also be hard on your body, especially if you have poor form.
For that reason, it’s important to consult a primary care practitioner (like your physiotherapist) when planning to start any new exercise routine. They can help assess the cause of your low back pain, work with you to set goals, and develop a custom treatment plan just for you.
Why wait? Book an assessment and see if jogging can help your back pain!
Until recently, scientists and clinicians had believed that people could do little to strengthen their spinal discs, although they obviously could injure them. Muscles and bones respond to the physical strains of movement by becoming larger and stronger. But most experts thought that spinal discs remain impervious to this process and might in fact be harmed by the jarring from running.
There were tantalizing hints in animal studies, however, that this idea could be out of date. When scientists in Sweden scanned the spines of mice before and after they ran for several weeks on treadmills, the researchers noticed significant increases in the size of their spinal discs, indicating that those structures had been responding and adapting to the demands of running.
But mice, of course, run on four legs and are in all other respects not people, and it remained unclear whether running and similar activities would be good or not for the human spine.
So for the new study, which was published in April in Scientific Reports, researchers at Deakin University in Australia and other institutions decided to examine the backs of people who run and others who do not.
Eventually they recruited 79 adult men and women, two-thirds of whom said that they were runners. Some of these told the researchers that they covered more than 30 miles (about 50 kilometers) a week in training. The researchers designated these as the “long-distance” group. The others said that they ran between 12 and 25 miles a week. All had been training for at least five years.
When it comes to back pain, disc deterioration can contribute to existing pain, Dr. Thomas says, But it’s usually only part of the problem. Factors such as smoking, obesity, age and a family history of spinal disc problems have more of an impact.
It’s likely that runners are generally healthier overall, which decreases the likelihood of experiencing chronic pain.
“We all know running has many benefits — it decreases stress, it increases cardiac health, it decreases weight, it helps your mind and mood. So those things are going to be very helpful,” Dr. Thomas says “That will allow you to tolerate your running injuries or back issues, if you get any.”
Dr. Thomas says more research needs to be done on a broader population of runners to tease apart possible reasons for their healthier spinal discs.
One important part of the study is that the researchers noted you don’t have to have an rigorous running schedule to see benefits, Dr. Thomas says. It’s good to run, or at least walk, because one of the contributors to prolonged pressure on the discs and joints is sitting for extended periods of time, he says.
“I think running is very good for you,” Dr. Thomas says. “You just have to use good body mechanics and pace yourself.”
If you’re thinking of starting an exercise routine, it’s important to ramp up slowly to avoid injury, Dr. Thomas says.
“You should at least start with a nice, healthy walk, and then move onto jogging and then perhaps consider a little faster pace,” he says.