a few months ago

How To Avoid Lower Back Pain When Running 

Running can be a great activity to keep you fit, strong and healthy. However, it can also lead to lower back pain if you're not careful. 

how to avoid lower back pain when running

Staying active and exercising is one of the best things you can do to keep your body free from back pain.

As this helps to keep you fit, strong and flexible as well as making you feel good and putting you in a positive frame of mind.

So getting involved with things like swimming, cycling, walking, yoga and Pilates is great for anyone who suffers with persistent back pain.

And running to a moderate intensity can also be extremely effective.

However, to gain the benefits of running or jogging you need to make sure you are doing it correctly.

As it's a high impact form of exercise that involves more jarring and stress on your joints and muscles. 

So if you experience back pain during or after your run you may need to change a few things.

And I'll explain what those changes are in this article.

Why Do You Get Back Pain When Running?

Why do you get back pain when running?

If you love to run then feeling pain and soreness in your back is a real downer.

As the last thing you want to feel on your run is that nagging pain when you should be feeling free, fresh and strong instead.

It just takes all the enjoyment out of it doesn't it?

Now there are a few possible reasons for this pain such as:

  • The impact and repetitive stress your body experiences when running can lead to inflammation and irritation in your joints, especially your facet and sacroiliac joints.
  • If your hips and pelvis are tight then your lower back will be forced to work harder and come under more strain as you run.
  • Weak glutes and core muscles can create vulnerability in your body as your back is less supported and this puts extra pressure on it when running.
  • Your running form is also important as if you run with an unbalanced body you increase the pressure and strain which can lead to muscle cramps and painful knots developing.
  • Overdoing your training and not giving your body enough time for rest and recovery can also cause you problems.

So if you want to be able to run without developing lower back pain you need to learn how to counteract these risk factors.

And I'll take you through how to do this now.

How To Keep Your Back Healthy & Pain-Free On A Run

How to keep your back healthy on a run

Getting into good running habits will make a big difference in how your back feels when you are running.

These habits includes preparing yourself well for the run, being mindful while on the run itself, and taking the time to allow your body to recover afterwards.

So let's begin with something that will protect your back against the high impact stresses of running and that is having a strong core.

Keep Your Core Muscles Strong

When you suffer from lower back pain it's vital that you work to strengthen your deep lying core muscles.

As this gives your back the extra support and stability it needs to be able to withstand the pressures you put on it in everyday life.

And having a strong core is especially important when doing a high impact exercise like running.

As a recent study from Ohio State University found that having weak core muscles increased the risk of developing lower back pain when running.

So make sure you incorporate core strengthening exercises into your weekly exercise routine if you want to stay pain-free on your run.

You can do this with specific core exercises or alternatively taking a yoga or Pilates class can also be really effective for building a strong core.

I personally do about 20 minutes of core exercises everyday (things like working the pelvic wall and planks) and it really helps to keep me on the straight and narrow pain wise.

Stretch & Strengthen Your Hips, Glutes & Hamstrings

Stretching regularly is another thing that every person with back pain should get into the habit of doing.

As this makes your body more flexible, increases your range of motion, keeps your body balanced, and takes the pressure and strain off your lower back.

And when it comes to running the three areas of your body you really need to make sure you stretch out are your hips, glutes and hamstrings.

As when these are tight they can unbalance your body, affect your running form, and place much more stress and strain onto your lower back.

Which is only going to cause you pain.

So add daily stretches into your routine like the ones above and it'll make a world of difference to how your back and body feels on a run.

Stretch Before & After Your Run Too

While regular stretching is extremely important for avoiding back pain, when it comes to running you also need to stretch before and after your run too.

As failing to do so can lead to a much higher risk of injuries such as muscle sprains, strains and cramps.

And this is especially the case in the lower back area as tight hamstrings and glutes will cause your back muscles to become overworked.

So make sure you warm your body up prior to your run and take the time to do some cool down stretches afterwards too.

As this will help you to recover faster and make post run back pain a thing of the past.

However, you need to stretch in different ways before and after your run.

So beforehand it's best to do dynamic stretches which warm up your cold muscles and get your body prepared for the stresses ahead.

While post run your muscles will already be warm, so you should do static stretches instead to release muscle tension and prevent the build up of lactic acid.

Use A Foam Roller On Your Glutes, Calves & Hamstrings

Using a foam roller is a really handy way to self-massage your muscles and get tight and painful muscle knots to release.

Which is great as these muscle knots can be a major cause of back pain.

As they cause blockages that prevent your muscles from getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy as well as trapping waste and toxins in the body that can cause inflammation.

So massaging them with a foam roller and getting them to release helps to get everything flowing again and can give you relief from your pain.

Which is great for keeping your back feeling free and loose.

And using a foam roller on your calves, glutes and hamstrings can also really help you to avoid back pain when running.

As this can improve flexibility, prevent tightness, stop muscle imbalances from forming, and increase your range of motion.

All of which are great for taking the pressure off your body and back as you run.

Run With A Healthy Form

Your running form and the way you hold your body as you run will have a massive effect on how your back feels.

Because if you get into bad running habits it will only place extra stress and pressure on your body.

And this will inevitably lead to fatigue, injury and pain.

So be aware of how you are running and make sure that you are doing so in a way that will keep your body balanced and healthy.

Some pointers to watch out for as you run are:

  • Keep your head up and look straight ahead rather than down as this will keep your neck and spine in alignment.
  • Make sure your shoulders are pulled back and not rolling forwards.
  • Keep your arms relaxed but make sure they are swinging forward rather than across your body.
  • Engage your core muscles as you run to give your back more support and keep your posture healthy.
  • Keep your hips forward and don't let them collapse from side to side.
  • Maintain a space between your knees as you run.
  • Try to land on the balls of your feet rather than the heels.
  • Run more softly and gently as your feet land to minimise any jarring and jolting.
  • Try running with smaller strides and slow down a bit if your back is hurting.

This takes a bit of work as old habits can be hard to break.

But once you get into good habits with your running posture you will notice that your back suffers far less as a result.

Wear Supportive Running Shoes

Running on hard surfaces and the constant jolting and jarring you get when out for your daily jog can really take it's toll on your body after a while.

So what you wear on your feet makes a huge difference.

As by wearing a running shoe that gives you good support and cushions the impact to absorb shocks you can greatly reduce the pressure and stresses being placed on your joints and lower back.

The problem with this though is there are so many different types of running shoes available.

So it can be hard to know which ones will be best for you.

And unfortunately the answer to that isn't simple as it will depend on the shape and arch of your feet and your gait.

So some of the things to consider when buying yourself some new running shoes are:

  • Your running gait - do you run with neutral pronation (ideal) in your feet, over-pronation (foot rolling inward) or under-pronation (foot rolling outward)?
  • Your foot arch - when choosing shoes with arch support you need to know if you have high arches, normal arches, or are flat-footed.
  • The width of your foot - you need to find shoes that fit you well as otherwise this can affect how you run and cause foot, nail and joint problems.

So the aim of the game here is to find a pair of running shoes that fit nicely and give you the right amount of support and cushioning for your type of feet.

However, rather than making these decisions yourself you could go to a store that specialises in selling running shoes.

As they will be staffed by people who are well trained in picking out the best ones for you depending on your arch and gait.

Much easier!

But be aware that even once you've found a great pair you will need to make sure you replace them before they wear out.

As even the best running shoes will reach their sell by date eventually and stop giving you the cushioning and support they once did.

Run On A More Forgiving Surface

Running on tarmac can be hard going on your joints

Many of us that live in inner cities are forced to run on roads or pavements.

However, this constant, repetitive, hard pounding on our joints from such an unforgiving surface can really start to cause problems after a while.

And not just with our backs.

So if you live somewhere where you can run off road too then try to mix your runs up a bit.

As running on grass, trails or running tracks will be much more forgiving than running on tarmac.

Running tracks especially are good as they are springier and runners hips, knees and ankles have all been found to bend less when running on a springy surface.

So you'll be less at risk of overuse injuries too.

And this lower level of jarring with help you to keep back pain down to a minimum.

Another consideration is if you run on a constantly even surface like most roads or sidewalks are.

As this lack of variation can cause repetitive stress to build up in your joints and lower back.

So this is another reason to vary your runs and the surfaces you run on.

As changing up the stresses that are put on your body as you run will prevent these problems from surfacing.

However, running on uneven trails can also cause problems.

As running up and especially down hills can place extra stress and pressure on your lower back and lead to fatigue and pain.

But if you do like to run over hilly routes just make sure that you hold your stomach in as you run downhill as this will add support and relieve some of the pressure.

Don't Overdo It

Exercising is great for people with back pain but only if you're clever about it.

As studies have found that exercising to a moderate intensity for 30 minutes three times per week can really help to lower pain levels and improve quality of life.

However, not exercising at all or exercising too often or at too high an intensity can actually have the opposite effect and make your back pain worse!

And this is especially risky with a high impact form of exercise like running.

As the constant pounding can lead to muscle strains, joint problems and even stress fractures on top of your back pain.

So, remember that you don't need to be running marathon distances or pounding the streets every day to gain the health benefits of running.

And if you're new to running make sure you start out slowly and build up distances, speed and run duration gradually.

This way your body can strengthen and adapt to meet these new challenges rather than being tossed in the deep end.

Also make sure you give your body enough time to rest and recover between runs as this will help to keep your back fit and healthy.

And some good news is that one study has found that slow runners actually had healthier and thicker spinal discs than non-runners.

So jogging to a low or moderate intensity may actually be a good thing for your back after all.

Just don't overdo it!

Make Sure Your Mattress Is Comfortable & Supportive

Good mattress to keep your back healthy for running

Now you may not make the immediate connection between back pain when running and the mattress you're sleeping on at night.

But the quality of rest and recovery your body gets after a run is vitally important for keeping your back healthy.

And the time when this healing and regeneration is in full flow is during sleep.

So to avoid back pain on your runs you need to make sure you are getting a good quality sleep each night.

And the mattress you sleep on makes a huge difference to this, with 95% of orthopedic surgeons surveyed saying that this was a big factor in how well people managed their lower back pain.

So to give your back the best chance of recovering from your run and staying fit for the next one you need to choose a great mattress.

And some of the things to look out for to get one that is great for your back are:

  • Firmness - a medium-firm mattress has been shown to be ideal for people with back pain as it has a good mix of comfort and support.
  • Comfort - you want a mattress that can cushion your body as you sleep on it, relieving pressure and allowing you to sink into a deep and restorative sleep.
  • Support - however it also needs to be supportive enough so it can keep your spine in alignment and allow you to maintain a healthy sleeping posture. 

So if you're sleeping on an old or inadequate mattress it could be part of the reason you are feeling back pain when running.

Which means it's probably time for an upgrade.

And if you need help picking out a good mattress you can click here to see my guide of the best ones for people with back pain.

See A Professional

Consider seeing an osteopath or physio who specialises in runners

If you've tried a few of the tips above and you're still experiencing back pain when running then it may be a good idea to seek advice from the professionals.

As you can find osteopaths, physiotherapists and physical therapists that specialise in runners.

And they can run through (pun intended!) the following with you which may be causing you problems:

  • Identifying any muscle imbalances which force your body to work harder and put pressure on your lower back.
  • Making sure your joints are aligned and working well, especially your spinal joints and pelvis.
  • Checking your running gait and style to see if it's healthy on your back.
  • Seeing how your hips, knees, ankles and feet react as you run.

By highlighting any problems in these areas and making small adjustments they can help you to take the strain off your lower back as you run.

And hopefully get rid of any back pain you have been experiencing.

Well worth it if you love to run!

Rounding Up

Running is a fantastic exercise.

As it allows you to get out into the fresh air, keeps your body fit, strong and healthy, and really makes you feel happy and refreshed afterwards.

However, it's a more high impact exercise than some other proven options for people with back pain like yoga, Pilates and swimming.

So you need to get into good habits and make sure you are doing everything right to stay free from back pain on your runs.

And I hope that the tips I've gone over here will help you to do just that.


Resources used in researching this article:

https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/health/injury/g771058/injury-runners-lower-back-pain/

https://www.sports-health.com/sports-injuries/running-injuries/how-run-safely-back-pain

https://www.painscience.com/articles/running-on-pavement-is-risky.php

https://www.runnersworld.com/beginner/a20811257/proper-running-form-0/

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Daniel

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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