Running can have a real impact on your back and it's not always down to the way your foot hits the floor, you need some new core values to live by.
Everybody knows somebody who has had a bad back. In the UK it’s thought that 80 per cent of all adults will have an episode of back pain lasting more than two days at some point in their lives. Low back pain that affects your running can be very frustrating, and there are many possible causes. To understand back pain, it is first important to know a bit of background anatomy (see diagram on the right).
Injury to any of these structures can cause pain in the lower back. But when it comes to running, there is not always a specific injury and it may be related to your biomechanics and the way that you move while running.
1. Pre-existing low back injury
The good news for runners is that most of the time low back injuries are not caused by running. However, if you have recently hurt your back and are returning to running after a period of rest, you may experience pain in your back due to the impact. It is essentially your back telling you that it is not quite ready for running yet, and you need to spend a bit more time working on your core stability muscles and doing non-impact cardiovascular work such as cross training or swimming.
2. Biomechanical low back pain
As you run, your footwear and body absorb the impact force of each step. Multiply that by the number of steps you take on a run, and you can begin to understand why things can get sore. Most running injuries therefore involve the foot, shin and knee, but the forces can sometimes be transmitted further up to the hip, pelvis and low back.
Your running biomechanics can also play a part if you have any mal-alignment, particularly around the hips and pelvis. This can be a problem for people who have one leg longer than the other, or an imbalance in the muscles causing asymmetry. Pain from mal-alignment can be transmitted to the lower back but also to other areas such as the hamstring, the leg and even down to the foot.
This type of back pain tends to start a short while into the run and gradually worsens, but disappears almost as soon as you stop. This can be infuriating and difficult to treat yourself, but a pair of running shoes specific to your needs from a reputable running shop is a good place to start. However, most alignment problems need to be assessed in more detail by a biomechanical specialist.
The term ‘core stability’ has been very fashionable in the health industry during the last decade. However, it means different things to different people and you will be shown a wide variety of ways to strengthen your ‘core’. For middle to long distance runners, it is more important to work on the control and the endurance of the ‘core’ muscles because control and endurance are what you need to run a long way.
What To Do…
If your back pain affects your running, a full assessment by a specialist sports physiotherapist is important to establish the source of the pain, analyse your biomechanics and alignment, and determine which aspect of your ‘core’ is not performing. The physiotherapist can then use treatment techniques to speed up your recovery and design an individualised rehabilitation programme to get you back on track.
Sports massage can also help relieve tight muscles in the back; or you can save a few pennies and do it yourself either using spiky balls or foam rollers.
Listen to your back. If it is hurting while you run, something needs to be done about it. Get assessed to find out the cause of your symptoms, get it sorted and get back out there.