Low back pain…it’s the worst. Most people experience it at some point or another, whether they’re runners or not. You picked something heavy up incorrectly, you regularly spend 8 hours of your day in a chair, or maybe it’s the effect of some issues in your posture and body mechanics. If you’re a runner, your running form could play a huge role in whether your lower back muscles protest the miles you put in.
Lower bank pain when running can make even a jog around the park excruciating.
But the bottom line is, you don’t have to live with lower back pain. Strength training, correcting poor posture, and working on mobility are all ways to get back to pain-free life and running. Read on to understand how weak and tight muscles contribute to your pain and follow our tips to help shore up those trouble areas.
Low Back Pain Fixes For Everyone
It’s worth mentioning that chronic pain and running injuries don’t usually come out of nowhere. If you’re experiencing lower back pain while running, chances are you’ve got some gaps in your training. Perhaps you’ve had less time lately for all your workouts so you’ve just been running and have skipped any cross training. Or maybe after a run you just jump in the car and head home, skipping your cool down and post-run mobility. It could also be that your lifestyle is quite sedentary and it’s time to make some changes.
Don’t get down on yourself. It’s a simple process to shore up those gaps with a little strength and mobility work. With one of our favorite core exercises and a dynamic mobility drill, you’ll have two go-to moves that are easy to complete, whether at the trailhead, park, or your living room.
Please remember that we’re online coaches, not online doctors. If you’re experiencing intense back pain, nerve pain such as sciatica,, or other symptoms beyond those described in this article, please seek out medical advice or physical therapy for qualified help.
Strengthen The Core To Beat Lower Back Pain When Running
One common culprit of low back pain is weakness through the core muscles, more specifically the deep stabilizer muscles. These muscles are responsible for keeping us upright and balanced with minimal rotation side-to-side or back-and-forth, and have attachment points throughout the spine and pelvis. A strong core also helps us absorb the impact of our daily activities and running in particular. As thousands of steps build up throughout a run, a strong core will provide shock absorption for your body.
Less shock absorption isn’t the only downside of a week core. Your posture will also likely be affected. When the core is weak people tend to default to an overextended, mildly arched low back since those stabilizing muscles are disengaged. Not only does this lead to instability throughout your body, it also hinders your ability to engage your glutes. These muscle powerhouses are particularly important to all athletes and runners. Strengthening the core and correcting this arch to find a more neutral spine position is critical to keep running long-term and injury-free.
Let’s experiment with spinal positioning and how it affects your glute and core engagement to get a better understanding of how to prevent lower back pain when running (or just chasing your dog through the park!)
Test Your Glute Engagement
To find that neutral spine position, start with your glutes.
- Stand as you normally would, feet hip or shoulder-width apart.
- Then squeeze your butt to fire your glutes. You should immediately feel your pelvis shift slightly forward.
- You’ll probably also feel your core muscles engage, even if you aren’t actively trying to flex them.
As you work through the following movements, keep the sensation of a neutral pelvis and engaged glutes in mind. That posture will help you get the most of the two drills, which will, in turn, improve your running.
Develop Core Strength With A Hollow Body Hold
This drill will put another variation on that engagement test. The purpose of this drill is to turn on those deep abdominal muscles, which support and protect your spine from defaulting to a dangerous position. Additionally, the extra help from your core will take some of the load off the lower back muscles, which, if left to absorb the impact of running on its own, can easily lead to repetitive stress and injury.
- Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground.
- Lift your legs up to create a “table top” position, both legs bent at a 90 degree angle,
- Knees should be directly over the hips and your head is resting on the ground.
- The low back should be pressed securely into the ground. You shouldn’t be able to fit your hand between your lower back and the ground.
Next you’ll add some challenge to the position and really test your core engagement.
- Peel the head and shoulders off the ground, keeping arms into your sides but lifted 2 inches off the ground, palms up.
- You can raise the arms above your hips, perpendicular to the ground.
- Try extending one leg, then both legs.
- Play with variations of just legs extended, or one arm and opposite leg, etc.
- Notice how the different variations affect the demand on your core, just as when you change position while running.
The only rule is that your low back MUST, MUST, MUST stay glued to the ground! This will keep your lower back safe and stable by avoiding hyperextension and compression in the spine.
Start with holding your chosen position for 10 seconds, for 6 rounds total. Increase time as needed.
Improved Hip Mobility Can Ease Lower Back Pain When Running
The other part of the puzzle is your hips! No doubt they are tight and putting extra pressure and strain on your spine. It’s pretty common these days that when you aren’t running or working out, you’re sitting. Sitting in your car, at your desk, on your couch…hey, us, too sometimes.
Let’s think about what that means.
Your hip flexors are muscles that connect your pelvis to your lumbar spine. They consist of the psoas and the iliacus, and they work together to flex the hip joint and move your leg up toward your body. Every forward step you take recruits the hip flexor muscles. When you spend the day sitting, these muscles are in a shortened position. Then when you stand upright, they lengthen. If the hip flexors are tight from being in a shortened position for too long, they can pull forward on the pelvis when you’re standing, adding to the tendency to tip your pelvis forward in an arched position.
Enter your chronic low back pain and thus, your lower back pain when running.
So, let’s work on your hip mobility up by targeting the hip flexors. Instead of a static stretch where you just hold a position without moving, this is a dynamic mobility drill. Running requires movement through the hips, not a static position. So we’ll replicate that movement here with some rotation and reaching.
- Start by standing with a neutral pelvis as you practiced in the butt squeeze test
- From here just start finding some rotations side to side, twisting the upper bodyfrom the lower body.
- You should start feeling a light stretch through the front of the hips.
- Continue rotating the upper body, side to side.
- From here go ahead and put your right leg back behind you, finding a shallow lunge position.
Here are a few ways to increase the demand:
- Extend the arms to increase the range of motion, emphasizing the twist towards the right leg.
- Try holding one arm higher and the other lower to move contralateral (opposite arm with opposite leg)
- Find an increasingly larger range of twist over your left side, trying to reach that right glute of the extended back leg, then that hamstring, then the knee, then the ankle…you get the idea.
Ultimately, you want to create a dynamic movement that counteracts the seated position we spend so much time in.
Accumulate up to 30 twists per side, starting from a small range of motion and increasing from there.
Including these two exercises in your running training will definitely help in both rehabbing AND preventing lower back pain when running!
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