Back pain aid for runners

Back pain, a common phenomenon in the general population, is especially common in runners. Running with back pain can not only be difficult, but it can exacerbate your problem and limit your ability to keep running. As you run, your body transfers its forces to the ground to propel you forward. The ground exerts its own force on the body as the shock is sent through all of its joints: ankles, knees, hips, and spine. The lumbar spine is highly mobile and responsible for supporting the weight of the upper body, along with the core muscles. The load bearing and mobility of the lower back makes it an easy target for pain.

If you’re running with back pain, it’s important to understand the possible causes. While gradual wear and tear on the joints is normal for long-term runners, there are many possible causes of abnormal low back pain. This pain is often attributed to herniated discs, a condition that affects many people, often without causing any pain. Herniated discs often heal on their own with little or no medical attention. The most palpable concern for racers is poor mechanics.

Poor running mechanics include muscle imbalances and improper joint angle. Runners often have tight muscles in the lower back and pelvis and weak gluteal muscles (in the buttocks) and transverse abdominal muscles (deep in the abdomen). Weak transversus abdominis in the stomach and gluteals in the buttocks leaves the muscles in the lower back and hips to do the work of supporting the upper body, causing them to become overworked and tight chronically. Running with back pain caused by muscle imbalances will increase the severity of it.

Aside from muscle tension, muscle imbalances can be responsible for other types of pain. One hip flexor muscle highly susceptible to imbalance is the piriformis in the pelvis. This muscle runs from the femur to the sacrum and is involved in almost all lower body movements. When tense, the muscle will shorten and become inflamed. This can create pain in the lower back and hip, and possibly irritate the sciatic nerve that runs near it. Sciatica pain shoots from the lower back down the leg and can severely limit mobility.

If your feet turn in or out as you run, or if your knees don’t point forward, you could be straining your sacroiliac (SI) joints. These joints are located at the base of the spine, where the large hip bones meet the sacrum on either side. The SI joint is supported by a dense network of ligaments. Abnormal angulation of the ankle and knee joints affects other joints; the SI joint ligaments can be pulled, creating hypermobility or hypomobility of the SI joint. Pain from this condition radiates from the lower back to and around the hips.

The abnormal angle of the joints also alters the amount of impact that other joints experience. If a knee or ankle joint is not positioned correctly, it is not supporting as much weight as it should. The work that this joint fails to do must be done by the other joints. The facet joints of the spine, which join the vertebrae, can wear out at an accelerated rate due to improper body mechanics. Running with back pain caused by these postural problems can slow you down significantly.

If your back pain is caused by running with poor form, correcting your form and any damage you’ve already done will be enough to resolve your pain. Muscle imbalances are corrected by relaxing overly tight and short muscles (with myofascial release or deep tissue massage followed by stretching) and then strengthening the weak muscles that were compensating for the tight ones. It’s important to turn off tight muscles first so they stop compensating for the group that needs to get stronger.

It would be wise to see a physical therapist who can assess your movements and take note of any joint angle abnormalities you have while running. He or she will be able to point out mechanical inefficiencies and work with you to retrain your movements.

An excellent slideshow of common imbalances and joint inefficiencies for runners can be seen at along with with examples of corrective exercises. .

Running with back pain is a chore and possibly a danger to your future running career. It’s important not to let back pain significantly decrease your activity level; you need your cardiovascular health and muscle tone to help you heal. However, continuing his current running regimen with poor form may worsen his condition. Seek help from a physical therapist right away if you suspect running is the cause of your pain and get back on track.

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