Low back pain is one of the most common types of complaints in the modern world—runners are no exception.
This condition can really be debilitating, forcing many a runner away from their running shoes.
It’s also one of the most prevalent medical conditions treated throughout the developed world.
Would you like to learn how to keep lower back pain at bay? Then keep on reading.
In today’s post, I’ll explain some of the most common causes of lower back pain in runners, along with what to do to treat and prevent it.
Let’s get started.
Low Back Pain In Runners Explained
If you’re experiencing low back pain, know you’re not alone.
Research has reported that roughly 80 percent of people report lower back pain at some point in their lives.
In some cases, low-back pain may come on quickly, after bending or lifting a heavy object, or likely during long distance running.
The pain may come in various forms. The least serious is muscular strains and pain, which consists of tender pain, swelling, and/or spasms that strike the lower back. Degenerative diseases can lead to more constant pain with lower pain levels and serious consequences.
Running Makes It Worse
The repetitive nature of the sport can significantly increase the cumulative impact of existing weaknesses and/or imbalances, structural asymmetries, and movement dysfunctions.
That’s why if running is making your lower back hurt, it’s key to understand what’s causing it as well as what type of treatment or prevention you need.
The Causes Of Low Back Pain In Runners
Low back pain during or after running has many of the same causes
Some of these include:
Weak Back Muscles
This is one of the most common causes of low back pain. Weak back muscles make your lower back more prone to stress and overuse, especially as you run.
This forces your spine and the muscular structure around it to bear more impact than it should, resulting in pain down the road.
Lifting weights is something every runner should be doing—whether they’re in pain or not.
In fact, it’s one of the keys to preventing injury.
Whether you choose bodyweight exercises, heavy dumbbells, kettlebells, or some mix of modalities, it’s key to strengthen the muscles of your body, especially your core, the foundation upon which your legs, hips, and pelvis is built.
Don’t take my word for it. Research out of The British Journal Of Sports Medicine reported that consistent resistance training might reduce sports injuries by up a third and overuse injuries by half.
At a minimum, hit the weight room two to three times per week, targeting every muscle group in your body.
These include your legs, hips, abdominals, back, chest, shoulders, and arms.
Bone Related Low Back Pain
What you should worry about when it comes to lower back pain is pain caused by structural issues in the lower back.
Common conditions include:
- Interverbal disc degeneration
- Spina bifida
- Herniated or ruptured discs
If you’re already dealing with one of these issues, the repetitive stress of running can make your symptoms worse. And you don’t want that.
I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet.
If you suspect a joint or disc-related problem, then it’s time to consult your doctor. They can perform an X-ray, which is the best way to get a closer look at your muscles, bones, spinal alignment and joints to identify any specific problem.
Red flags to pay attention to include:
- Back pain following an accident
- Back pain accompanied by fever
- Loss of strength in the legs and arms
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Unwanted weight loss
- Pain spreading down one or both legs
- Swelling or redness on the back
- Weakness or numbness in one or both legs.
- Sudden lump formation
Your doctor can help you determine the likely causes of your pain so you can get on the road to recovery correctly.
The doctor may also get you to perform specific strength and mobility tests to determine the exact source of your pain.
Thanks to this, they can design a personalized plan to get you back to running pain-free.
The doctor may recommend epidural injection, and in advanced cases, surgery might be the only option.
Don’t let things get out of hand to the point where you need surgery to fix what’s damaged. By then, you’ll be in a world of pain or even already damaged your bone or neural structure.
Your Running Form
The way you hold your body while running matters more than you think.
Logging the miles places a lot of pressure on the spine, which can compromise the support structure throughout your body.
Opt for the wrong technique, and sooner or later, you’ll make things even worse
The right way to run involves keeping your back flat, so the spine is aligned with the rest of your body. This should help prevent any load from being focused on a specific area, especially on your back.
Here are some form guidelines to help you improve your running technique:
Engage your core
Engaging your core lowers your center of gravity which can improve your balance as well as improve your running economy by preventing energy waste
Avoid looking down at your feet. Instead, keep your head up, gazing ahead 15 to 20 feet ahead. This also reduces some of the pressures and weight load on your neck. The lower you gaze, the more pounds you add up to your neck.
Relax your shoulders
Slouching, or rounding up, puts a lot of strain on the muscles of your neck and back, which, over the miles, can lead to pain. Keep your shoulders loose and let them roll naturally.
Avoid rolling your hips, as this may force you to put extra load on one side of your body. This, in turn, can compromise your balance and lead to pain.
Weak Core Muscles
The core, which includes your abdominals, glutes, obliques, and hip flexors, are your spine’s main stabilizer.
Again, it’s no surprise that research has linked weak core muscles to low back problems.
Weak core muscles cannot sustain the demands of the miles. This forces your lower back to exert more effort to keep you upright and with no support from the front, leading to pain and injury down the road.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but core strength is vital for not only good performance but injury prevention as well.
To protect your lower back from soreness and pain, try any of the following core routines:
Wearing improper and/or worn-out running shoes can send more stress throughout your body—some of which end up on the structures that make up your back.
Choose running shoes that fit your foot type and training needs. If you don’t know how to choose one, then head to the nearest running specialty store and ask for help.
But before you do that, make sure that you actually know a thing or two about proper shoe selection by reading the following posts:
- The beginners guide to running shoes.
- Your guide to minimalist running shoes
- How To choose shoes for overpronators.
Remember to replace your running shoes after reaching the 400-500 miles range. Try to run in worn-out shoes, and you’ll set yourself up for all sorts of pains—lower back pain is no exception.
How To Soothe Low Back Pain
If you’re suffering from lower back pain—especially when it’s muscle- or bone-related, there are a few exercises and stretches you can do to soothe your pain.
One tool is the foam roller. You can use this amazing technique to loosen up and relaxing the muscles behind your pain. Think of foam roll as a deep tissue massage you can do on your own and for free.
Since you’re a runner, you’re likely to have tight hamstrings, which may make the inward curve in your lumbar spine worse. Rolling out the muscles of the back of your thighs may help release some of the stress off your lower back.
If you’re a beginner runner (or looking to increase your training load), the best way to prevent back pain (and any type of pain in general) is to build a solid base of running first.
This should give your body enough time to get used to the high impact placed on the back. This, in turn, may reduce your risk of back problems while running.