Many people start running to reduce their everyday discomfort from arthritis and other maladies, so it’s very frustrating when this exercise increases pain instead of decreasing it. That is especially true of back pain, because most people expect their legs or knees to hurt, but not their backs.
If you’ve been to see the doctor about a bad back, it is best to be very proactive. Talk to your doctor about your plans to start running, and she or he can probably offer input on things like mileage, intensity, and frequency. If their patients are especially concerned about how to run with a bad back, doctors often recommend a lightweight back brace as a preventative measure.
What Causes Back Pain While Running?
Back muscles work almost as hard as leg muscles during running, because these muscles must keep your body erect, often for rather long periods of time, while the body is under stress. So, it is not surprising that back pain among runners is quite common.
Lower back pain is almost always associated with poor core strength. Most of the muscles in your stomach wrap around the spine almost like an extra-long strip of duct tape, so underdeveloped abdominal muscles often mean back pain. Furthermore, if these muscles are weak, your hips, hamstrings, glutes, and other non-back muscles must work even harder to pick up the slack. If this issue is not addressed, you will almost certainly hurt yourself eventually.
Poor head positioning usually causes upper back pain. A head that leads your body while running creates extraneous stress directly on your upper back between your shoulder blades, causing discomfort. Arm motion may also be at fault for much the same reason. Some people tuck their arms or elevate them when fatigued, a motion which ones again causes unnecessary stress.
One key benefit of the aforementioned back brace is that it directly addresses running posture issues, which can not only alleviate upper back pain but also reduce lower back pain.
Cross-training to increase core strength is a good idea as well. Bicycling, in particular, is a good way to accomplish this goal. In fact, if you want to keep running for a long time, and you probably do, it’s usually best to cross train at least three or four days a month. As an added bonus, cross-training gives joints a break from running, reducing the risk of shin splints and other leg issues.
Finally, incorporate the following stretches into your pre- and/backbackor post-running routine:
- Warrior Pose/Hamstring Extension: This modified yoga pose is a great way to increase core strength. Start in a standing position with both arms up, one leg planted, and the other leg parallel to the floor. Then, swing your body into a “T” position and hold for about fifteen seconds. Begin with one round of ten reps and then work up to three rounds.
- Bicycle Crunches: Lie flat on the floor with hands behind your head. Lift each leg in a bicycle pedaling motion while rotating your body so your elbow touches your knee. Start with a set of 20 (ten on each side).
- Ball Pike: You’ll obviously need an exercise ball for this one. Rest your shins on the ball and your hands on the floor so your body is at a 90-degree angle. Then, roll the ball toward you while lifting your hips into the air. At least ten reps will strengthen your core and also improve your balance.
With a little prevention and diligence, back pain does not have to be an inevitable result of your new running fitness routine.