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Can Running Cause Back Pain–An Answer to An Awesome Athlete


Can Running Cause Back Pain–An Answer to An Awesome Athlete 

A friend of mine, when she was growing up,  used to admire how  people ran  faster in the Olympics. Within a few minutes, they completed a distance which  she says would have taken her an hour.  I personally think she was being too hard on herself.  In any case, she vowed to become a runner and a competitive one, so with time she started her training. It wasn’t an easy process but she was determined to fulfill her dream. However, one day she had  lower back pain which even after treatment made her dreams of becoming a professional runner come to an end. She didn’t know that running could cause back pain.  I ran track when I was in high school, but this post is not about me. It’s a tribute to a hard working,  brave, and classy,  athlete . Therefore the question is, can running cause back pain?

 Yes, running can cause lower and upper back pain

Tips on back pain and running
Back pain and running

Running is a great way of exercising if you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness, build strong bones and strengthen your muscles.  As you run you are burning a lot of calories, hence it is a good type of exercise when you want to lose weight and also maintain a healthy weight.  People who have a passion for running feel that they are internally pressured to run and they can’t control the urge to run even when they are on vacation.  They are better equipped to handle race day stress and have a positive mindset as they train. However, things do change when this passion causes back pain or any other kind of pain.

Running does put high levels of repetitive stress on the back and it affects the overall length of the spine. The most common type of pain is  muscular pain and strain and the pain comes as an ache that generally materializes in the lower back muscles before, during, or after running but it doesn’t go to the buttocks or legs.  The back ligaments and muscles which help keep the spine upright and maintain a good posture as you run may become strained and fatigued hence causing spasm and pain.  The nerve roots are squeezed in such a way that the pain radiates to the legs or arms which makes one temporarily immobile. People who have a history of back pain will find that if they run or jog, then the pain intensifies or it leads to other pain such as sciatica which is leg weakness, pain, and numbness.

The pain in the upper back is usually painful and annoying and it appears in between the shoulder blades.   Upper back pain is caused by not swinging your arms enough or swinging too much or the shoulders rising and becoming too tense when you get tired which creates a torque on the upper back.   The change of pH in a particular region also causes pain and this happens because there is a buildup of lactic acid which makes nerves become sensitive to irritation.

Lower back pain is caused by various factors affecting the lower back and these include:

back pain and running
back pain and running
  • Hip-flexor tightness

One cause of the back pain is the lack of hip mobility. Hip mobility is caused by tight hamstrings which cause the pelvis to be rotated too far backward or forward hence cause strain on the spine. The runners have reduced ability to flex their hips while their knee is straight because of the tight hip flexors and it causes stress when you try and extend it while running hence the pain.

  • Core instability

Poor form and inappropriate core instability are also another cause of decreased hip mobility so a runner should be in proper form. Running requires one to have good core strength so that it supports the forces that are transmitted through the pelvis during the phase of weight bearing as you run. Doing corrective exercises will improve their posture and doing exercises such as wall squats, abdominal crunches or leg raises are good exercises to strengthen the core and back muscles.

tips on back pain and flat feet
back pain and flat feet
  • Foot pronation

Your running style and heel strike may cause you to have back pain. When you have an improper foot imbalance that will affect how you run. With poor technique and posture you can end up placing a lot of strain on the back. Pronated feet and ankles cause the feet to roll inwards . This can cause knock knee which in turn shifts the angle of the thigh bones, pelvis and eventually the spine. This causes poor alignment of the hips, legs, feet and spine as you run so it will cause a strain hence back pain.

  • Too much pressure

Runners are exposed to disc generation and sacral stress fracture because of the extensive running on hard surfaces which poses danger to the spinal column. The pressure also affects the spine vertebrae and intervertebral discs which can develop a back problem such as degenerative disc diseases, herniated disc or vertebral stress fractures.

Herniated discs occur when a disc is squeezed out of its original position and it pushes against the nerve root of the spine and it causes pain. Degenerative disease is the gradual breakdown of one or more intervertebral discs and there is the weakening of the disc and it becomes flatter, less flexible and offers less cushioning.

How much pain a runner experiences depends on the nature of the back injury and the individual runner.  If you are constantly getting lower back pain after you run, then it is advisable to seek medical evaluation and early intervention before making the injuries worse

However, you don’t have to stop running if you have back pain. You can get shoes that have orthotics or insoles that have great support as you run. They will also correct your foot alignment. For example, if you over pronate it means that you have poor movement pattern of the hips so you will need to stabilize your hip as you run. Take time to heal first and then start slowly, gradually working your way up.  Listen to your body and if the pain persists ,even if you have been treated , you will need to stop running.

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like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.





6 thoughts on “Can Running Cause Back Pain–An Answer to An Awesome Athlete

  1. Thank you for sharing this helpful article about running and back pain! This was very useful for me because I am a runner and I have sciatica / low back pain. I’ve noticed that it gets worse when I don’t stretch properly. Epsom salt baths, regular acupuncture, and yoga really help to alleviate the pain. I am starting to wonder if maybe the issue is the way I’m running, or perhaps my shoes. I’m going to look into orthotics to see if it improves my situation. I appreciate the tip!

    1. Hi Audrey,

      I’m glad you found the article helpful as it’s my hope to provide a place where runners can find useful and trusted information on how to diagnose, treat, and prevent pain associated with running. Do look into orthotics. I think they may help. I wish you the best.

  2. I’ve always wondered about this! I haven’t had any issues with my back, but issues with my knees when I run.. and I think all of it’s very interrelated! Running is great for your heart, but has the potential to do the rest of the body more harm than good. I personally do still like to do it when I can, but I have invested in some better shoes, which have really helped my knees… and it’s good to know that they are likely helping my back as well. Great informative post, thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Jen,

      You can keep running just make some adjustments. For example, you should run on softer surfaces. Avoid uneven terrain which can aggravate runner’s knee. If you do go on hills, which I suggest you do less off, use smaller strides. Also, it’s important to understand that when it comes to knee problems associated with running, it’s not the intensity but the mileage increase that makes a difference. Meaning it’s not necessarily how fast you run but the distance that will affect how much pain you feel. It’s okay to cut down on the distance when you feel pain. Finally, getting better shoes is a great step in the right direction. I will be writing a lot more about how to run without pain. Stay tuned.

  3. Intriguing relation between many folks’ favorite activity and the dreaded back pain. Lovely bits of useful info, great job!

    As I was diagnosed with scoliosis in my early teens and since i also have flst feet, I know what it feels like – almost like someone snapping your back (or at least trying really hard to). You did point out that problematic feet can mess up with your back – spot on I’d say.

    One thing though, ever since I started working out and as my core and back got strengthened, I must say I have no issues.

    Do you think going to the gym would be beneficial for guys with back problems?

    1. Hi Simon,

      You can go to the gym but you might have to change some things. Walking on an inclined treadmill ,for example, puts a lot of stress on the hamstrings and that can strain your back. One noted doctor advises using a stairclimber as a safer substitute when used properly. He says, “It enables you to keep your back straight and also requires you to use your quadriceps and hip girdle muscles that allow you to protect your back.” Make sure to use proper form, holding the rails lightly without using your arms for support. You can use weight machines as long as you employ proper sitting form.

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