Lower Back Anatomy and Running
To better understand why lower back pain occurs while running, we will first take a look at the anatomy of the spine and how its structure influences the onset of pain.
The human spine is comprised of three main sections: the lumbar spine (lower back), the thoracic spine (middle back) and the cervical spine (upper back and neck). The spine and pelvis are connected through the sacroiliac joints which connect the sacrum (bony portion of the spine situated below the lumbar section) with the pelvic bones.
Why Does Lower Back Pain Occur When We Run?
The lower back together with the pelvis are responsible for carrying the entire weight of our upper bodies, and also help provide stability and hold our torso upright. Because of the increased load that they have to bear, both the lower back and hip are prone to wear and tear effects as well as injury.
Running, which is a high-impact form of exercise, places additional physical pressure on this region through the up-and-down motion that happens during this activity.
That is not to say that running necessarily causes problems in the lower back, but it may trigger or amplify already existing issues that may be caused by factors such as:
- Lack of activity, which can lead to weakening of the core muscles that are now unable to properly support the upper body and hence are at an increased risk of strain when placed under pressure.
- Poor posture throughout the day. If incorrect posture is help for a prolonged period of time, it can add to the effect of sedentarism and further lead to weakening of the back muscles as well as to altered spine structure.
- Herniated discs. Due to their jelly-like structure, spinal discs help absorb impact that would otherwise be directed at the bony parts of the spine. When a disc is herniated, it no longer provides the same cushioning effect and as a result the sufferer feels a more amplified impact on the spine while running and hitting the ground after each step.
Other factors that can lead to back pain while running, but which are not directly linked to the back include:
- Poor-quality running shoes that do not provide enough shock-absorption or do not adequately support the foot.
- Overexertion by performing the activity for longer than the body is capable of sustaining.
Running injuries to the lower back are not uncommon and repetitive stress to the back may lead to long-term complications.
Needless to say, running with an injured back is not advised, as it is not only painful, but it can lead to spinal issues. If herniated discs were not a problem before, overusing one’s back through running can lead to disc problems.
The Importance of Exercises for Lower Back Pain
Because in a large number of cases back pain, and subsequently spinal compression are caused due to a lack of physical activity, becoming more active can help ease strain on the spine.
It must be noted, however, that not all exercises are suitable for those suffering from pain in the lower back, as they either require an advanced level of fitness, or they carry an increased risk of injury.
That being said, some types of exercises to consider are those that are of low-impact, but still provide benefits such as strengthening the spine. These include Pilates, Yoga, or specific spinal decompression exercises.
On top of benefiting our spinal health, engaging in physical activity is also beneficial for the body as a whole, helping with weight management (another factor that may lead to pain in the lower back) and blood circulation.
What You Can Do
To avoid lower back pain while running, you can try some of the following approaches, most of which are performed before the running session. some that are performed during the activity, and other which are performed after you run.
Before you run:
- Engage in strength training to strengthen your core muscles. Strong abdominal muscles, and good core strength in general can help provide additional support for your back as you run. You can also try cross-training to help with overall body strength. If you’re unsure where to start, you can seek help from a qualified trainer who can help with a training plan that is tailored to your needs.
- Be mindful of your running technique and running form, ensuring that you maintain an adequate posture, and avoid placing too much stress on your spine by minimising jumping in-between steps.
- Stretch your back muscles, leg muscles, as well as your hip flexors and if you can, stretch the rest of the body as well, to release any muscle tension.
If your pain persists, or you are not able to alleviate the pain at home, it may be worth seeking professional medical advice. A medical professional can help diagnose the cause of your pain and provide a treatment plan, including the option to engage in physical therapy to help with the pain and other symptoms you may be experiencing.
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If you want to live pain-free, why not try the Backrack Lumbar Support Belt, which uses Backrack patented technology to decompress your spine on-the-go, in addition to supporting your lower back.