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Back Pain and Running – Do You Need to Give It Up?

Home » » Back Pain and Running – Do You Need to Give It Up?

I recently worked with a client who enjoys running but had been struggling with some back pain that limited her running. She met with a physician who recommended that she stop running because it is bad for her back. Because she really enjoyed both the physical and psychological benefits that she received from running, she was a bit upset. So, did she have to stop running? Is it really bad for your back?………

When someone is experiencing an episode of back pain, a lot of different activities can hurt and sometimes make the pain worse. However, it does not mean that these activities are bad for your back-they just hurt now because your back already hurts. For instance, many people with back pain find that sitting stationary can make it worse. It does not mean that sitting is bad for your back-even slouched sitting is normal and ok when you are not in pain. www.promotiongb.com/blog/back-pain-and-posture

​An example of this false thinking about activities that hurt after a pain onset is this: Imagine you accidentally step off a curb and roll your ankle. Your ankle becomes swollen and painful and causes you to limp. In fact, walking may now be painful. If we were to falsely assume now that because something hurts when we do it, that this activity is “bad” for us, we would have to conclude that walking is bad. Obviously, this is not the case. The same can apply for a person with back pain who enjoys running. When experiencing back pain, running may increase your pain or you may feel it in the back. We should not conclude however, that running is bad for our backs because it now hurts. 

When we look at the research about running and our spine, we actually find some evidence that shows that running, and the impact associated with it, may keep our backs healthier! In a study published in February of 2020, researchers looked at the intervertebral discs (IVD) of middle aged runners and compared them to age-matched non-runners. What they found is that middle-aged, long-term endurance runners exhibit less age-related decline in their lumbar IVDs. In addition, the measures of IVD morphology appeared to be better in those who had been running for a greater number of years, as well as in those who ran greater distance per week. So, running may actually be helping our backs!

Ok, now you know that running is not bad for your back-even though it may hurt when you have back pain. but, what can you do about it. From a running perspective, we want to keep you running so you can enjoy your activity. To do so, we may have to make some recommendations about how long/far you run based on your pain. In addition, changing some things with your running mechanics to decrease your stride length and how much you move up and down while running may be beneficial. 

If your pain does not seem like it is getting better after a few days to a week, getting some treatment may be able to help decrease your pain so you can move easier with less pain. This may include some hands-on treatment as pictured to the right as well as instruction in some range of motion exercises to help with your pain and speed your recovery.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, you want to make sure that you rehab your back appropriately by regaining full motion and strength so that your back is ready to tolerate the activity of running that you want to get back to doing. It amazes me how much this is often and under-utilized part of back recovery. If people injure their knee, most know that you need to build the muscles around the knee back up to get back to full function. The same applies for the back-particularly if you have had pain for a while or many episodes of off and on pain. Each one of these pain episodes cause you to move differently and favor your back, eventually leaving many of the supporting muscles weak and deconditioned. Getting them stronger and building endurance in them can not only help you get back to running, but also decrease your risk of pain episodes in the future.

In conclusion, if you are experiencing an episode of back pain, and running makes it more painful, it does not mean that running is “bad” for your back. You DO NOT need to give up running forever! With the right guidance, treatment, and progressive rehab (to include running), you will be able to get back to full running without limitation. 

If you are a runner and have been limited by back pain, don’t give up! I would be happy to talk with you to learn more and discuss options for helping you get back to running. If you would like to talk, just click on the link below and we can find a time to talk.


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