When you run, it places repetitive stress on your back. If you’re already dealing with low back pain issues, it’s critical you do what you can to reduce lower back strain.
Lower back pain after running is common among new runners. But it’s also prevalent in runners who haven’t run in a while and come back to it too quickly and too aggressively. In some cases, your lower back pain might be mild but becomes aggravated by running. The best thing you can do is prevent lower back pain from running in the first place.
Preventing Back Pain for Runners
If you’re wondering how to run with lower back pain, fear no more. Here’s how to prevent lower back pain when running:
1. Reduce Lower Back Strain
To reduce the chances of placing strain on your lower back, you should:
- Warm-up thoroughly before you begin running.
- Stretch out your hamstrings twice each day to reduce stress across your lower back.
- Try some cross training to avoid getting into an overuse syndrome.
- Strengthen up your back’s core muscles with strength training and muscle toning.
2. Perform Strength Training
Strength training is essential for lower back pain prevention. Strong core muscles, as well as a strong kinetic chain, can help take the load off an achy back. Strengthening your core muscles is particularly critical since these muscles help support your spine. However, always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, particularly if you have back pain.
Two muscle strengthening exercises to prevent lower back pain are planks and mountain climbers:
- Planks: Get down on all fours. With your shoulders straight over your elbows, lower onto your forearms. Step your feet back into the plank position. Don’t hunch your shoulders — draw them down and back. Tighten your abdominal muscles to line up your hips with your shoulders, causing your body to form a straight, long line. Squeeze your glutes and legs for support. Now, hold this position for 60 seconds — or at least 45 seconds if you can’t hold it for 60. As your core becomes stronger, add time gradually. Repeat for three to five reps.
- Mountain climbers: In the plank position, bring one knee to your chest and back again, then alternate and do the same with the other knee. Pick up the speed until you’re running along the floor. This is an excellent exercise for raising your heartbeat and working out your core and quads.
3. Perform Daily Maintenance Exercises
When you have lower back pain, you may feel like you should rest your back. But moving is helpful for your back. Daily maintenance exercises can strengthen core muscles to help better support your back.
Here are some excellent maintenance exercises to do daily to help lower back tightness while running as well as pain:
- Supermans: These target your back and shoulders. You lie on your stomach, reaching your arms in front of you. Take your feet and separate them several inches apart. While breathing in, lift your chest and engage your abdominals, legs and arms off the ground. Continue gazing down at the ground, protecting your neck. Exhale as you lower your limbs down. Do three sets of 20 to 30 reps.
- Lacrosse ball hips: Lie on your back with knees up and feet on the floor. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh, so your left knee is out to your left side. Place a tennis ball or lacrosse ball under your right glute, gently rolling around until you start feeling the sensation — once you hit a tight spot or knot, you’ll feel it immediately. Stay in this position until that sensation begins subsiding. Then continue moving until you find the next tight spot. Be sure you’re breathing.
- Seated forward folds: These stretches target the lower back and hips. While sitting on the ground, take your legs and extend them in front of you. Lead with your chest as you bring your torso toward your legs, resting your arms on top of your legs or alongside. Relax your shoulders and allow your head to be heavy. Hold for two to five minutes to help lengthen your spine and allow the stretch to get into your hamstrings and hips. This may not be a good stretch for you if you’re suffering from a herniated disc or posterior bulging.
- Legs up the wall: These exercises target your lower back. On the wall, locate a bare spot. Lie down with one shoulder and hip against the wall. As you pivot on the hips, swing your legs up the wall, keeping your buttocks as close as possible to the wall. Straighten your legs and heels against the wall.
- Supine twists: These twists target your spine. Lie down on your back. Take your knees and pull them into your chest. Take your arms out to the side, creating a T. Inhale. Drop your knees over to your right as you exhale. You can keep your gaze to the right or left side or to the ceiling, whichever position you find more comfortable. Place a towel or pillow under your knees for support if they don’t reach the floor. Hold here for one to three minutes before rolling onto your back and taking your knees to your left side.
4. Run on a Rubber Track
Be kind to your body and run on a track or other forgiving surface instead of cement or asphalt.
5. Wear Supportive, Comfortable Shoes
Make sure you have the correct gear for running. Wear proper running shoes that aren’t too worn out or otherwise uncomfortable.
Common Causes of Back Pain for Runners
Often, running isn’t the direct reason for back pain. Research shows competitive runners and other elite athletes don’t experience as much back pain than the average individual.
But, running can worsen back pain symptoms such as stabbing pain and aching muscles. Runners can also experience pain when lifting objects or bending the back or may have lower back pain only on one side.
Lower back pain after running causes may include:
1. Weak Deep Core Muscles
Research shows runners experience the onset of back pain due to general deep core muscle weakness.
These deep muscles sit much further below the superficial muscles characterized by the traditional “six-pack abs” you see in fitness magazines.
The researchers used computer simulations which found runners who had fairly weak deep core muscles had to progressively rely more on their superficial muscles to continue running, resulting in a greater chance of back pain.
Back pain that increases in intensity or persists might be a symptom of an underlying problem, such as hyperlordosis, herniated disc or muscle sprains and strains.
Hyperlordosis is a typical cause of back pain. It’s a form of poor posture, characterized by an exaggerated inward curve of your lower back’s spine. It causes your stomach to lean forward and your buttocks to push out. If you were to look in the mirror, you’d see a C-shaped arch.
If you want to test for hyperlordosis in your house, stand against the wall straight, keeping your legs shoulder-width apart as well as the back of your heels a couple of inches from the wall. With your shoulder blades, head and buttocks touching the wall, you should have no problem fitting your hand between the curved part of your back and the wall. You could have hyperlordosis if there’s more than a hand space between the wall and your back.
Certain things can cause hyperlordosis like:
- Neuromuscular diseases
- Spinal injury
- Structural issues
Hyperlordosis doesn’t usually call for medical treatment. Improving your posture with exercises and stretches often correct it.
3. Degenerative or Herniated Disc
Your spinal discs, as you age, might experience excessive wear and tear called degenerative disc disease. Since your back’s discs absorb the shock of running, when your discs become weak, it can lead to back pain after you run.
A herniated disc, often called a ruptured or slipped disc, occurs when the inner section of your disc between the vertebrae starts pushing through the outer ring.
A herniated disc can cause permanent nerve damage in severe cases. Your doctor will suggest lower back pain after running treatment based on how severe your symptoms are. Treatments can range from over-the-counter painkillers to surgery.
4. Muscle Sprains and Strains
Intense physical activity, like running, can cause ligaments, tendons and muscles in your lower back to tear or stretch too much, resulting in stiffness, pain and muscle spasms. When you have a torn, twisted or overstretched ligament, you have a sprain. On the other hand, if you have a muscle or tendon that is torn, twisted or overstretched, then you have a strain.
Should I Run With Lower Back Pain?
While running is an easy type of exercise, each body will respond differently to it. It is a high-impact exercise, but it can be either bad or good for back pain, because of differences in weight, stride and coordination.
However, according to a study, individuals who run or walk briskly regularly seem to have healthier spinal discs than those who don’t exercise. There were 79 men and women recruited in the study. Two-thirds were runners. Some even ran over 30 miles a week. These were classified as the “long-distance” group. The other individuals ran between 12 and 25 miles every week, and all the participant runners had been running for a minimum of five years. The last group hardly ever exercised at all.
The researchers had the volunteers wear an accelerometer for a week to report accurate activity levels. They then used an innovative type of MRI to scan everybody’s spines. The MRI measured the liquidity and size of each disc precisely.
The researchers did find differences. Usually, the discs of the runners contained more fluid and were larger than the discs of those who didn’t exercise. Because both increased internal fluid levels and greater size indicates better disc health, those volunteers who ran had healthier spines than those who were sedentary.
The best advice as to whether you should run with lower back pain is to check with your doctor.
Treatment Options for Back Pain From Running
Low back pain treatment will range from non-operative conservative therapy to surgical intervention. The treatment goals are to reduce or prevent disc or spinal nerve stress, relieve pain and maintain normal function. Doctors tend to recommend more conservative treatments to treat symptoms before surgical interventions.
Non-Operative Conservative Treatments
Here are some non-operative treatments doctors often recommend:
- Stretches and exercises: You can perform stretches and exercises if you’re experiencing back pain. One good exercise is foam rolling your back. This helps loosen your tight and aching muscles. It’s similar to a deep-tissue massage. Another useful idea is rolling out your hamstrings since when your hamstrings are tight, it accentuates the inward or lordotic curve in your lumbar spine. When you loosen your hamstrings, it essentially takes a great deal of pressure off your low back.
- Medicine: These may include muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories or sometimes neuroleptics and narcotic medication.
- Cold or heat therapy: Cold therapy tackles inflammation, while heat therapy works well for acute spasm during your first 24 to 48 hours.
- Chiropractic care: This is where the doctor realigns and improves motion in your “locked” joints.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist may have you perform strengthening exercises, stretching and massage. This specialist can help you to target the specific areas causing your pain.
- Transforaminal epidural steroid injections:Injections help to relieve spinal nerve inflammation while also helping the doctor to confirm the actual affected level where the pain originates.
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.
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.