It does not matter whether you want to be fit and healthy or change your body — you expect a positive result when you start any exercise program. This can mean that you automatically assume that the exercise will not have any negative consequences.
While no one starts exercising to injure themselves, it is, unfortunately, not enough to prevent injuries from happening.
In fact, when starting any exercise program, you are at risk of developing a physical problem if: 1) it is not performed adequately, 2) you overdo it, or 3) you have an underlying condition.
With running, it is no different. Up to 85%¹ of runners have at least one running-related injury (RRI) each year. In this context, you may experience low back pain.
Understanding why and what to expect from this condition, you can avoid it or be more prepared to tackle it.
Read on to discover how to prevent lower back pain when running and understand why it might happen.
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One of the most common complaints among those who have to take time off work and/or see a doctor is related to back pain. Since it can arise for various reasons, such as repetitive movements, an incorrect lifting technique, or a sedentary lifestyle, it is easy to see why so many people can be subject to this condition.
Running may be related to lower back pain, with some runners experiencing this problem during or after a run. However, to solve it, it is necessary to consider the cause.
First, it's important to clarify that if you are sedentary, you will activate several muscles to a higher degree than they are used to, resulting in soreness. This is more pronounced when you undergo vigorous exercise, such as running faster than usual.
In this sense, you may experience some pain in the lower back muscles that will disappear in a short time and become less frequent as your fitness increases.
Low back pain is less frequent in runners than in the general population and athletes of other sports. Furthermore, in 90%² of cases, the cause of pain is not clearly identified. However, some factors can be considered in managing this condition.
If you regularly run with improper biomechanics (e.g., foot and trunk positions), it can lead to a repetitive strain injury, which may require some modification to this movement and, possibly, physiotherapy treatment.
As part of the process of modifying your movements to ensure the problem doesn’t reoccur, it will be necessary to consider your running gait and whether you suffer from a condition called hyperlordosis. A qualified personal trainer can assist you in ensuring that your body position is correct when you run.
In some cases, running may actually exacerbate an existing back problem rather than cause it. Thus, a physical examination by a doctor, osteopath, or chiropractor is relevant to diagnose an underlying condition and avoid future issues.
Whether running is a beloved part of your exercise routine or a necessary chore, you will probably ask yourself: “Should I run with lower back pain?” While more research needs to be done, some studies³ have shown that strengthening the core can alleviate back pain.
Strong core muscles help to reduce the likelihood of back injury leading to back pain as they support the back and aid the body’s stability. However, this advantage only applies if you actually have a strong core.
Before you know the cause of your lower back pain, it may not be a good idea to continue running as usual. It is best to see a doctor or other professional before proceeding to avoid a more serious problem. Brisk walking is a more moderate form of exercise and can be a good alternative in the meantime.
If your lower back pain is because your muscles are not conditioned to work to that extent, you should be fine to continue to run once the pain has reduced.
In addition to asking yourself whether you should run at all if you have lower back pain, it is also necessary to question if there is a better way to run.
Though it may seem logical to solely focus on your back if you experience lower back pain, remember that other body parts will play a role in how the back feels. Similarly, only considering whether you have the correct running form is also not going far enough to help reduce the risk of subsequent pain.
Due to this, it is essential to consider many aspects of the running process to understand how to proceed while avoiding back problems.
As with many forms of exercise, an effective warm-up routine must be a key part of any running regimen to increase muscle blood flow and prepare them for the exertion that is about to begin.
The warm-up should not only include the core muscles that support the back, such as the abs and obliques, but also the legs and buttocks muscles.
While a warm-up comes before the run, a cool-down is just as important. This involves slowing down the vigorous nature of the exercise to aid the process of the body moving from a significant level of exertion to a more moderate level.
In addition to asking yourself, “Should I run with lower back pain?” you should also be asking yourself, “Am I wearing the right sneakers?” The way your feet hit the ground when you run will differ from another runner, which means that running shoes that suit one person won’t necessarily suit another.
Wearing the right equipment during exercise is essential to avoid pain and injury.
Further, you should avoid pushing yourself too hard if you have suffered lower back pain from running.
Do not let back pain stop you. However, it just means choosing the right exercise intensity and modality, which can mean something less vigorous than running.
Moderate exercise is an advantageous tool to relieve back pain since it helps strengthen the muscles and correct the body’s posture, promoting a good running gait.
Fortunately, it has been shown that runners tend to have fewer incidences of lower back pain compared to the general population. This suggests that running will often not be the cause of lower back pain, even if it may be capable of making it worse.
By recognizing the causes of this potentially debilitating condition and how to deal with them, you will be in a better position to know how to prevent lower back pain when running. This will help you avoid giving up on exercise and maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle.
Low back pain fact sheet | National Institute of Health