Running isn’t just great for your physical fitness. It provides incredible support for your emotional fitness too. Getting out there and hitting the road or the trail gives you the time you need to leave the stress of life behind you, if only for a little while, with nothing but the sound of your feet as they hit the ground. And as a runner, you know that there’s no bigger high.
Yet, it’s not always a bed of roses and injuries can crop up that can make you nervous to perform at your normal level or even keep you from doing what you love. And one of the most common issues that can crop up is back pain, whether from an injury or overuse.
The good news is that most problems runners have with their back aren’t permanent. That’s why in this article, we’re going to look at the most common causes of back issues in runners, and what you can do to get back on track.
So if you have back pain while running or experience low back tightness while running, this article is for you.
We’ll also cover:
- How to prevent lower back pain when running
- How to rehab a back injury from running
- So let’s jump in.
- Back pain while running is usually caused by one of these three issues:
- Muscle spasms
- Sprain of the sacroiliac joint
- Facet problems
We’ll take them one by one to help you determine which could be the culprit behind your back pain and what steps you should take to strengthen your back and feel better.
#1 – Muscle spasms
Anyone who has been running for a long time has probably experience muscle spasms at one time or another. And while we know in our head that these spasms aren’t life threatening, they can feel that way when they hit.
When these occur, the best thing you can do is to rest your back. However, you should still perform light activity like walking so as not to lose strength in your back and cause the problem to set in long-term. Using heat or ice for low back pain can also help, especially when you alternate them at 15 minutes on/off each.
It can also help to use an inversion table (Amazon features the Backlounge or you can purchase it right here on this site). The reason inversion therapy can help is that it allows your spinal muscles to stretch and elongate, helping to break the spasm. Additionally, the Backlounge features foam rollers that provide myofascial release during the inversion process to offer added help by breaking up trigger points within the tight muscles.
To prevent low back spasms from returning, they key is to strengthen your core muscles to ensure your spine is fully supported. And you should also have your gait checked at your local running store to determine whether you need additional arch support in your shoes.
#2 – Sacroiliac sprain
Your sacroiliac joint is where your low back and pelvis meet at the base of your spine. Because this area moves so much when you run, over time, you can end up with a sprained ligament.
If you have low back pain that’s worse with sitting and extends to your buttocks and down the back of your thigh, but doesn’t travel past your knee, your sacroiliac joint could be to blame. However, because these symptoms can be found with other issues, it’s best to see your doctor to rule out anything worse, such as a disc herniation.
Care for sacroiliac injuries includes:
- Core work to strengthen the trunk muscles and stabilize the joint
- Stretching to relax tight muscles that complicate the problem
- Stabilization through the use of a pelvic belt or girdle during daily activities
- Traction to create space in the joint through inversion therapy
- NSAIDs or corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation
- Heat/ice therapy to the joint
#3 – Facet problems
Pain in the facet joints (where the projections on each side of your vertebrae link together) is due to degenerative changes in the facet joints. These degenerative changes involve a breakdown of the cartilage in the facet joint space, which allows the bones in the joint to rub together.
Inflammation sets in and pain, stiffness and swelling are the result.
Because of this, for people suffering from facet syndrome, unpredictable back or neck pain that occurs off and on is common. Generally, you’ll also find that your pain is made worse by movements like bending and twisting, while changing position may work to relieve your pain. In cases of facet syndrome, you’ll usually also find that you have a dull ache directly over the spine and it can be painful when someone presses on your spine, even gently. It’s also common to experience back pain while sitting for long periods of time, like on a long car ride.
The most common treatment options are:
- NSAIDS and muscle relaxers – Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatories to relieve the swelling and irritation in your facet joints, as well as muscle relaxers if you’re facet problems are causing spasms.
- Muscle strengthening – While working your muscles doesn’t directly relieve problems in the facet joints, strengthening your core muscles provides support for your spine that takes pressure off the joints.
- Hot/cold therapy – Using ice or heat for lower back pain caused by your facet joints can help alleviate that aching feeling.
- Chiropractic adjustments – Chiropractors are trained to evaluate the cause of your pain and can help you find relief.
- Myofascial release – Myofascial release helps to alleviate muscle tension and spasms by banishing painful trigger points that keep your muscles locked.
- Inversion therapy – Many people with facet pain wonder, “Can inversion therapy make me feel better?” And the answer is yes. Inversion therapy uses gravity and your own body weight to ease pressure in your spinal discs and facets to reduce pain.
And you can perform easy muscle strengthening as well as inversion therapy at home with the Backlounge, which as the best inversion table option you can find, lets you address your back pain in three ways – inversion therapy, core strengthening and myofascial release.
Enjoy running again without the pain
As you can see, there are a number of causes of back pain while running. And while each has its own treatment plan, common options to help them all include ice or heat for the pain, core strengthening and inversion therapy.