It has been observed that many athletes and runners complain of lower back pain after running. This is a very common condition that is caused due to various factors ranging from posture to biomechanics.
The pain felt amongst runners is of a dull aching type, or it could be a sharp radiating pain too. The radiating type of lower back pain after running is mostly of a neural origin.
Running is a more advanced form of walking gait pattern where there is also addition of an aerial phase in the normal gait cycle.
Running basically comes down to three things:
- Posture of body
- Falling of body on the ground / ground contact
- Pulling of the body forward / off the ground
In case of disturbance to any of these components, there are chances one might experience lower back pain after running.
It is also commonly noted that people generally dismiss off lower back pain after running as a problem related to footwear but that is not always the case.
Listed below are a few disregarded causes that contribute to lower back pain after running:
1) Bad Posture
The first and foremost thing to keep in mind while doing anything is the body posture, especially during running. Most of the people who complain about lower back pain have a poor posture while running.
How you hold your pelvis while running matters the most. Some people tilt the pelvis anteriorly while running while others tilt it posteriorly. Tilting of pelvis anteriorly or posteriorly leads to muscle strain on the lower back muscles, otherwise known as quadratus lumborum.
Excessive strain and stress on the muscle causes a dull aching pain which turns chronic over time. This in turn leads to a chronic condition of lower back pain after running.
How to correct: In this case, one should think of the pelvis as a hollow bowl of water and while keeping it straight in its position and then start to run. This would help keeping the pelvis from tilting.
2) Core Strength and Core Control
Core strength and core control is a very important determinant to maintain posture. Weakness of core strength and stability causes slouching of the body forward while running, causing pelvic tilt. Pelvic tilt puts load or stress on the lower back muscles especially during long distance running leading to lower back pain after running.
How to correct: Core strength and control can be obtained by exercising the abdominal muscles namely – the abdominis and the obliques. Perform exercises that help you hold your body in place for strengthening like the plank. There are a few more exercises for strength training of the core muscles that can be found here.
3) Poor Glutes Activation
The butt muscles, namely, the gluteus maximus – work as the hip extensors. They help extend the hip forward during walking. Every time we walk or plant the foot on the ground, the gluteus maximus is the main muscle that pulls the body through.
It is found that in people who suffer from lower back pain after running, the gluteal muscles may not be properly toned or flexible. This causes inability of the muscle function to be performed causing the muscles of the lower back to act as a compensatory mechanism in pulling the body forward.
This in turn leads to lower back muscle getting repetitive stress and gives rise to lower back pain after running.
How to correct: Proper glutes activation is required to avoid the following condition. This can be brought about by glutes strengthening exercises, namely – butt / glute bridges. These are performed by lying flat on the ground with your knees folded.
Place your hands on the sides and start by lifting up your butt. Hold for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat this exercise 15 times daily to strengthen the glute muscles.
A few other strengthening exercises can be found here.
4) Surface Where You Run
The surface upon which you run greatly affects the biomechanics of the body which causes lower back pain after running. Most people choose to run either on a treadmill or outside. But lower back pain after running is mostly seen in people who run on treadmills.
This is because the glutes activation fails while running on the treadmill. When you step on a treadmill, the belt automatically brings your leg back from the feet flat phase of the gait cycle without you having to work for it. This limits the use of the gluteus maximus as the belt does its work. The abdominals and the back muscles are used more and hence are overworked leading to lower back pain after running.
On the other hand, while running outside, the body produces better glutes activation and leads to pain free motion.
How to correct: Try using different surfaces for running. Stretching of all the hip flexor muscles as well as the hip extensor muscles might help.
5) Improper Heel Strike
Heel strike is the phase of the gait cycle where the heel is first planted on the ground. This is the most initial phase of a gait cycle. While walking or running, we need to keep in mind the center of mass of our body. Imbalance of the body is caused due to improper knowledge of the center of mass.
Many a times, people who experience lower back pain after running, carry out the heel strike in a wrong way in relation to their center of mass.
Try this – in a standing position, keep your leg extended with your heel out and the knees locked out all the way to the hips. Try jumping in this position for a bit. You might feel a dull achy pain radiating from your lower back to your thighs.
This is what happens when we extend our heel and knees to such an extent that it doesn’t fall under the center of mass of our body which causes lower back pain after running.
How to correct: Correction of the hip position, so that the runner can get proper heel strike underneath the hip and the center of mass of the body.
6) Over Rotation of The Upper Body
Different people run in different styles. Some people swing their arms, some keep them stiff and others slightly bounce them up and down as they run.
But what they don’t know is that the arm and trunk movement that they perform can be a huge cause of lower back pain after running.
Now, try running with your arms swinging along with trunk rotation. with your heel striking completely in front of your hips. You’ll feel a strain on your lower back.
While swinging your arms, the trunk tends to rotate along with it. This causes the back muscles to activate along with the core muscles.
In case of weakness of the core muscles, the load of the whole action falls solely upon the back muscles which cause strain. This leads to chronic lower back pain after running in many long-distance runners.
How to correct: Before you start running, relax your shoulders. Avoid too much swinging of the arms and keep your head in a neutral position.
7) Pain Due to Neural Origin
Lower back pain after running can also be caused due to a nerve compression of the leg. This is a type of radiating, tingling pain that is felt from the lower back to the thighs or the knee.
If you suspect you have nerve compression pain, it is advised to go to a physical therapist to get yourself assessed properly.
How to correct: Avoid sprinting and keep your pace slow. Also, try not to run on roads or concretes and run on soft grounds like soil or grass gardens instead. This would help relieve pressure off the spine as compared to running on hard surfaces.
Try using your mid foot or forefoot instead of striking your heel while running to prevent further pressure on your legs.
Generally, people with nerve compression are asked to avoid running. It is suggested that they perform HIIT or uphill running if they want.
Avoid downhill running as it could worsen the nerve compression, thus causing lower back pain after running.
8) Muscle Spasm
It is very common for people who workout and go for running, to have muscle spasms which can be a cause of lower back pain after running.
Muscle spasm is a protective mechanism of the muscle when it is being over used. This over use can be due to end number of reasons including the one already listed.
Muscle spasm of the quadratus lumborum is very common. The range of motion of the trunk is restricted in case of a severe muscle spasm.
How to correct: One should seek proper medical advice in case of a severe spasm. As the back muscles are anti-gravity muscles, they get fatigued easily. Proper rest should be taken to reduce strain on these muscles so as to prevent lower back pain.
Running is an activity that uses up a huge amount of water from the body in the form of sweat. In such conditions, it is very common to get dehydrated very soon.
Dehydration along with lack of potassium in the body leads to muscle cramps. It may be possible that the lower back pain after running is caused due to cramps in the lower back muscles due to dehydration or potassium decrease in the body.
How to correct: Runners are advised to drink adequate amounts of water while exercising and running. Having a proper potassium and protein rich diet helps strengthening and repairing of muscles.
Lower back pain after running can cost you your health and fitness. But it can also be avoided if one takes proper precautions.
Here are a few tips and self care methods to avoid lower back pain after running :
- Proper stretching of the whole body before running to release muscle tightness.
- Drinking adequate amounts of water along with proper diet.
- Running in a proper posture and on a proper surface.
- Using proper footwear.
- Not neglecting any kind of injuries.
- Considering physical therapy in case of prolonged injury.
It is said that a good sportsman is the one who manages to carry out the particular sport in the most injury free manner.
Any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.