Pain in your lower back? Knowing about your spine and what happens to it when you run is the best way to keep it healthy and strong.
Clinical specialist physiotherapist Paula Coates MSc MCSP SRP MACP AACP explains:
What happens to the spine when we run?
The spine has three natural curves that are supported by ligaments and muscles which help absorb the impact and momentum of running on the body from the top to the bottom of the spine. It is important to have strength, balance and control in the lower back and legs to counteract this.
Can running cause back pain?
You are more likely to get back pain by sitting than from running, however, running can cause back pain if you are not strong enough, run with an injury or try to run too far too soon. The vast majority of running injuries are overuse injuries that affect the legs, so with that in mind pacing yourself and increasing your distances steadily will enable you to run further and is the best way to avoid an injury.
How to protect you back when you run
Running is training in its own right for running, but don’t forget the strength and conditioning exercises that improve spinal stability, general flexibility and joint mobility, as this is the foundation to prevent injury. Be posture aware when you are sitting and make sure you have the correct trainers for your foot type.
Strength training exercises for runners
Running on softer surfaces such as a track or a treadmill is a good way to avoid impact related injuries if you have problems with your joints.
The time of day you train is also important, make sure you allow enough time to warm up and stretch your back if you need to before and after your run. First thing in the morning maybe good to avoid the commute to the office, or straight after work may fit in with your work schedule, but make sure it is the best time for your back.
Can running cause sciatica?
Sciatica is pain felt in the leg and can be the result of several problems but often there is irritation to the sciatic nerve. Running is basically hopping from one leg to the other and transferring all your body weight alternatively through each leg and hip. If your back, hip and core muscles are weak or inflexible, this can increase the impact felt in your spine. If you have had a prolapsed disc (slipped disc), you may be more susceptible to developing sciatica after running as the discs act as shock absorbers in the spine. The impact of running can trigger sciatica in some runners or irritate on-going problems in others.
Should you run with lower back pain?
If you have back pain it is important to work out why your back hurts. There are many things that cause back pain, sometimes it will settle with rest, sometimes with painkillers but most times exercise will help. If you have pain that is making it difficult to do normal daily tasks, give running a miss till things get back to normal. If you have sciatica, definitely wait till it settles before running. If your back feels a bit stiff after a session in the gym or sitting too long at work or travelling, try stretching first to see if things loosen up before you run. Be reassured that most back pain is mechanical in origin and a run is just what the doctor ordered.
However, if you are injured, make sure your back is fit enough to run before you start!
Paula Coates is a Chartered Physiotherapist and Clinical Specialist at Balance Performance Physiotherapy. She has over sixteen years’ experience in the diagnosis and management of sports injuries and back pain. Balance is one of the UK’s leading Physiotherapy and sports medicine companies, based in London.