Help For Runners Worried About a Bad Back

Running involves repetitive stress and impact that can affect you from your feet all the way to your neck.  People who have an underlying back or joint problem sometimes find running makes their pain worse.  This is why runners are frequently coming in and out of our doors (and they are some of our favorites to treat).

If we had to predict the two most common injuries runners will be coming to us with this fall, it would be “runners knee” (which you can find on last weeks blog), or a complaints of a “stiff lower back”.  Both of these complaints, keep them from running at a speed, distance, or effort level of those in their age bracket.


You don’t have to be experiencing severe pain to be effected either.  Here are tips for anyone running with a stiff or bad back, or anyone who wants to avoid one.


Strengthen Your Back Muscles

For runners, a stiff lower back and IT band tightness go hand in hand.  If you have a weak low back that’s not able to keep pace with the miles you are running, you will start to feel stiff. The muscles fatigue quickly and pain often sets in.  Tightness in other areas including the IT band and hip flexors occurs because they are working overtime to support your body when your back “gives out”.


Stretch Your Piriformis

Runners with a complaint of a “back back” often don’t have a problem in their back at all.  They may have “piriformis syndrome”.  In this case, the piriformis muscle that runs across your buttocks becomes too big (no, it has nothing to do with the size of your behind) and strong from running.  With a weak low back, the piriformis works overtime to support you.  This muscle then traps a nerve (the sciatic nerve) that results in back pain, nerve pain, or even tingling down the leg. IF you are runner with symptoms of sciatica, you may in fact have piriformis syndrome.


Do A Posture Check

When was the last time you paid attention to your posture while you ran?  It’s easy to fall into a bad habit due to weakness or fatigue – so we need to fix it fast! Take note if you slump forward, are tight and elevate your shoulders, or lean in one direction.  If you can’t get a good feeling of your body position, have someone shoot a quick video on their phone. This allows you to see how you move from a better perspective.  Let your shoulders and upper body relax into a comfortable arm swing and keep your back upright over your hips.  The tension of bad posture pulls on your back muscles and causes muscle spasms and pain.


Keep Working On It

Once a problem with posture, pain, or back weakness is fixed, don’t make the mistake most people do and stop your lower back exercises. Strengthening, stretching, and postural checks should be an ongoing practice for runners.  If you get out of the habit of caring for your back, the pain will come back.


There is no one-size-fits-all prescription to solving low back pain. One runner may have poor flexibility, another a muscular imbalance, and yet another may have poor running form. If you need help finding the right back exercises for you, request a call from one of our specialist Sports Physical Therapists today by filling out a quick form HERE today.

Start the exercises they recommend immediately, keep on doing them, and your chances of suffering again will lessen greatly. And finally . . . Don’t ever stop running – or doing any activity that improves your quality of life – due to fear of back pain!