february 3, 2015 by
Studies show 4 in 5 adults will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. The severity of low back pain can range from bothersome to debilitating. Minor low back pain may not seem like a big deal. However if you’re a runner, even slight back pain can completely derail your training plans and sideline you from your sport for weeks, months, or even years.
Unfortunately, treating low back pain tends to be easier said than done. Most people turn to over-the-counter pain medications and at-home remedies, like ice therapy, massage, and stretching, to try to ease the pain. But oftentimes these fixes are only temporary, and it takes a doctor (or two or three) to find the root of the problem. Then you’ll need to work with your doctor to figure out a treatment regimen that your back pain responds to. This can take trial and error – and a whole lot of time.
Since managing low back pain can be so tricky, it’s easier to prevent the problem in the first place. Thankfully, there are several actions that runners can take to keep low back pain at bay. Including the following:
- Wear proper shoes – and replace them often. Running in shoes that aren’t supportive enough can overwork low back muscles. Get professionally fitted for running shoes at a running specialty store, and replace your shoes every 300 to 500 miles. (Related: How to find the perfect running shoe)
- Keep your hamstrings loose. Tight hamstrings place stress on the low back muscles. Keep your hamstrings loose by stretching them after each run. Practicing yoga and using a foam roller regularly can also help to loosen up hamstrings.
- Work those core muscles. Planks, crunches, and other core-strengthening exercises build the muscles in your abdominals, obliques, and back. A strong, balanced core is less likely to get injured. (Related: Core-strengthening exercises)
- Cross-train. Muscle imbalances can lead to overuse injuries, such as low back pain. Biking, swimming, or lifting weights regularly can strengthen the muscles we don’t use as much when we run.
- Run on soft surfaces. A spongy track, dirt trail, or asphalt road is more forgiving to the body than a concrete sidewalk. In fact, concrete is about 10 times harder on the body. If you cannot avoid sidewalks all together, vary your running surfaces and only run on sidewalks a couple of times per week. (Related: Pros and cons of different running surfaces.)
- Warm-up before a run. Walk or slowly run a half mile or so before your workout. After the warm-up, do some gentle stretches. Sometimes warming the muscles up gradually can prevent injury. (Related: Warm-up exercises for runners)
- Back off at the first sign of a problem. Just like other injuries, low back issues respond better to treatment when they first crop up. If you keep running through the pain, you risk turning a minor injury into a major problem. If your back bothers you, take a few days of rest before you lace up your running shoes again.
Written by Jen Matz.