Is your low back feeling achy during or after your runs? Are you feeling like the soreness in your back is limiting your ability to fully participate in your training? You’re not the only one. We see this all the time with runners coming into our clinic, especially women postpartum. Regardless of if their low back pain is the reason for their visit or if it’s something that’s also occurring in addition to another injury or symptom it’s important to identify the root cause and address whatever that may be to promote resiliency for the runners we work with.
There can be many reasons for developing low back pain with running. This blog will take you through the 3 main causes and provide you with some general tools to test out for yourself. The 3 main areas we will focus on today are posture, hip mobility and stability, and core strength.
I think it’s safe to say that posture is a foundational piece to running form. If you’ve ever watched a race or participated in a race I’m sure you’ve seen the runners with the forward head and rounded shoulders seeming trudging along on the road — maybe that was you at one time. This position of the round shoulders can really reduce the ability to breathe effectively and efficiently when running. We recommended to have “proud” running posture with the head and chest up, eye gaze looking 20ft ahead of yourself. This also doesn’t mean you have to be running with your chest vertical either, there is a sweet spot.
Current research also states that when someone is running with a heel strike in front of the body (ie. overstriding) this can increase the risk and demand of force on the pelvic floor muscles and impact…like 8x the bodyweight force to the ground reaction force! That’s a lot of extra force our body must withstand with every step. So we recommend when running to make a small change to your trunk position from upright to slightly forward. This will reduce the ground reaction force to 2-4x body weight force. This helps reduce the demand on the pelvic floor muscles and increase access to the pelvic floor muscles and quality of breathing.
Another bonus to this little tweak in posture is it will place your body in a more optimal position for your glute muscles to engage and help you feel strong and powerful while running and also reduce the epidemic of “Flat Butt Syndrome” commonly seen in postpartum women.
Then the next common area we look at is how the hips are working in relation to your pelvis and low back. What range of motion do you have? How about the quality of the motion? We also want to know the strength for your hips and compare them side to side. Are they the same or is one side stronger than the other? All of these things must be taken into consideration when runners are experiencing low back pain. If the hip mobility is lacking, specifically hip extension (the leg going backwards) this can impact running mechanics, posture and can lead to incomplete mechanics and cause symptoms like achiness in the lower back.
Our clients hear this all the time, if an area of our body isn’t working properly or only performing at 65% of what it should be, our bodies will find a way to compensate to make the movement happen. The downfall is these compensations temporarily allow us to complete our run, but when we do this day in and day out, the joints or tissues that are being asked to pick up the slack will overtime become overworked, irritated or injured. This is where a thorough mobility and strength assessment can be important to identify any asymmetries and faulty movement patterns to address sooner than later. Below are 4 of our favorite mobility and stability exercises for the hips.
Hip Circles (CARS)
Single Leg Bridge Isometric Hold
- Standing Hip Abduction with Mini Band
The third area we commonly see for runners presenting with low back pain is reduced core strength. I want to touch back on the posture piece mentioned earlier many runners will over extend from their upper back which increases forces to the lower back, this can be due to a handful of reasons, but a common to is due to lack of core strength. Runners will lean their upper back backwards and “hand out” on the joints in the low back, hips and pelvis rather than engaging their core and hip musculature to power them through their runs. I recommend stacking your rib cage over your pelvis for increased core engagement, then try the mini lean slightly forward as stated earlier. Now, give these core exercises a try, notice if they feel easy or difficult and if there are any side to side differences showing up.
Straight Leg Lowers
Core Strength – Anti Rotation
Half Kneel Pallof Press
As you can see there are many pieces to the puzzle when it comes to addressing symptoms like low back pain. By taking a look at your posture, hip mobility and stability and core strength and focusing on the exercises and strategies mentioned above for a solid 1-2 weeks you should see change.
If you’re looking to improve your running performance for the long-term and get stronger, run faster, and avoid nagging injuries or setbacks – head to the link below to learn how to become a Resilient Runner.
Don’t wait to live your best life, we’d love to help you reach your goals and be a part of your transformation!
Are you overwhelmed with the options available when it comes to your health? Are you tired of settling for short-term fixes without long-term results? Are you in need of a clear solution to better your health and fitness? Are you ready to become the person you know you can be?
You shouldn’t have to waste your time and money on options that don’t work. We understand how frustrating it is to try different things without getting the results you had hoped for. Click here to fill out a contact form to request a FREE Virtual Strategy Session to help develop a clear and specific plan to reach your goals and learn about our Resilient Running Program. We help active adults in our local Southern California practice and throughout the country through our remote services.