Back Pain With Running

Do you find that your back tightens up when you run, especially as your distance increases? If so, you are not alone. It happens to a lot of runners…but it doesn’t have to! Back pain is not inevitable as your running distance increases. There are very good reasons it is occurring and these reasons can be fixed. 

The three common issues that I find when runners experience back pain are 1) muscle weakness and compensations, 2) running/postural faults, and 3) fatigue contributing to postural faults. 

Let’s break these down… 

Muscle weakness and compensations 

Our glutes are the primary muscles that hold us upright when standing, walking, or running, with the muscles in our backs being a secondary component. Due to habits and compensations we pick up over many years, our backs tend to do more work than they are made to do. The longer we are on our feet and the back muscles are constantly firing, the more aggravated these muscles become. 

When we go from standing or walking to a more dynamic and loaded task of running, the spinal muscles become even more active. If these muscles are weak, they will fatigue quickly when running due to the increased demands placed upon them. As the fatigue sets in with the increased distances you are running, they become tight in order to support your body. This tightness leads to discomfort and pain. 

If you find your back gets tight and sore (or even painful) not only when running, but also when standing for long periods of time, this is likely a contributing factor into your situation. 

Running/postural faults 

When running, you want a good, upright torso as you “fall” forward. What often occurs instead is a forward trunk lean. The only way to get an upright torso and keep your head up when you have a forward trunk lean is by extending your back. This extension of your spine keeps your spinal musculature constantly active. They can only maintain that constant activity for so long before they fatigue and develop pain. 

Fatigue contributing to postural faults 

You start out running and feel great. The body is strong, your posture is spot on. As the distance increases, though, your muscles fatigue and your posture changes. You develop a forward trunk lean which requires you to extend through your spine. As stated above, your muscles can’t maintain that position for long periods of time, so they begin to fatigue and develop pain. 

So how do you fix these issues? While you do need to take time to figure out which issue (or issues) are contributing to your pain, I suggest starting by addressing your core strength. A stronger core never hurts anyone and tends to help everyone! Start simple with isometric holds – planks, side planks, bridges, arm and/or leg movements on your hands and knees – focusing on maintaining neutral spine and avoiding spinal extension. Once you are solid there, you can transition to more dynamic movements. 

I also invite you to check out 5 Ways To End Your Low Back Pain for more ideas into what you can do for your back. 

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