As a runner, you sometimes get random aches and pains. From blisters to sore muscles to tight hamstrings, these issues are common running injuries. One issue that I have been enduring lately is my lower back pain. Come to find out that many runners other have back pain.
The main reason for lower back pain from running is due to muscle imbalances along the kinetic chain. This can cause tightness of surrounding muscles, glutes, and hamstrings to become stiff/tight causing additional stress on the pelvis/lower back.
Lower back pain from running can be brought on a few reasons and running can exasperate the issues.
Why Many Runners Get Lower Back Pain [Myself Included]
Why do runners get lower back pain?
There are many reasons but one of the main factors is posture. The most common postural issue, bad running posture that causes a flat, tight lower back which puts your pelvis into an unstable position.
As you run more it becomes even more apparent as all that jarring and stress causes instability in your pelvis and thus results in tightening up of muscles further down the chain ( hips, groin etc).
If this continues then over time there will be lots of adhesion's being formed causing tightness/pain in those surrounding areas and gradually increasing pain and discomfort in the lower back itself.
The next common reason for lower back pain is an imbalance between your left side (flexors) and right side (extensors) which can be caused by a number of issues. The issue that I see most commonly however is runners are not activating their core correctly, so they lead with their chest causing them to exhale on every step – leading to a tightening up of the abdominals, and then over time, this tightness will start to creep downwards.
This results in imbalances all around, which gradually builds up resulting in tight hamstrings/groin/hips etc., tight quads at the front, and stiff glutes at back - ultimately an unstable pelvis. This leads to lower back pain as the whole kinetic chain is out of alignment.
When your pelvis becomes unstable, you will have issues with posture and imbalance which can result in pain and discomfort in the lower back area itself (commonly called a quad-dominant runner).
This motion also causes your hips to rock side to side instead of moving forward/backward which adds another element to stability problems. If this continues then there may be some hip adhesion's that forms leading to more tightness etc...
All runners are different:
As I mentioned above all runners are different so there are other factors that can cause a slight issue somewhere along the line which then progresses into an injury or chronic pain before long – most commonly would be an existing injury – a previous issue that hasn't been fully rehabilitated or an imbalance that has developed over time.
4 Ways to Ease Lower Back Pain from Running
If you have lower back pain every run then this could be due to some of the issues above so below are some exercises I use with clients to help address these problems.
1) Lumbar extension strengthening -
These exercises focus on lengthening out the lumbar spine (lower back). There are many different but similar exercises that you can do for this so I will just show one here.
Lie on the floor and place your foot against a wall. The higher up the wall, the harder. You should feel this exercise in your lower back (lumbar spine) as opposed to in your glutes or hamstrings which are further down the chain/line of pull:
2) Core engagement –These are similar to the above but with less range of movement. The focus is more towards engaging the core muscles as opposed to doing an extension move which will help strengthen those muscles at their end range .... i.e when they are chronically tight!
So having them engaged throughout a run may also be beneficial?
It's hard to say for certain but it is thought that engaging the core muscles may help stabilize the pelvis and result in less jarring of the spine as you run. Again there are many exercises for this so I will just show one here:
3) Glute activation -
This exercise focuses on strengthening your glutes (main posterior chain muscle) which can be a real key area when it comes to lower back pain from running. As mentioned above, if your glutes are weak or stiff then it will cause stress further down the chain/line of pull i.e into hips, groin, etc...
And ultimately lead to problems with the lower back.
By activating these muscles correctly first thing in the morning (or any time during your day really!) you should strengthen your glutes which will, in turn, create a longer/stronger line of pull for your pelvis.
Start on hands and knees with your butt up as high as possible, tighten everything else in the pelvic area i.e abs, quads, etc... then squeeze those glutes hard whilst pushing that butt back towards your heels:
4) Exercise variation -
I have worked with many people who had years and years of lower back pain from running but by simply changing one minor thing e.g distance, speed, or time they were able to stop their back pain completely! It may be that this is true for you too?
Only you can know what works best so try out different variations within the same activity e.g hill sprints instead of regular sprints, a different length runs on the treadmill, or even just running with your hands behind your back.
You may find that by trying something new you will be able to ease lower back pain from running instantly?
Overtime: Running in itself can create loads of problems if you are not careful e.g tightness and stiffness!
So although doing the above exercises is good for taking care of imbalances, I would also recommend cross-training i.e by including additional bodyweight exercises such as squats, lunges, planks, etc... into your routine – this will help keep everything moving well so hopefully avoid any future issues!?
In addition to this, it's always good to include some strength work into your routine too; again I would recommend other bodyweight exercises such as planks, squats, etc... in addition to resistance methods.
3 ways to prevent low back pain & adjust your spine:
1- Tighten up the lower abs
After every run to avoid the tightness creeping down and creating some terrible low back pain. Remember that your core is just a switchboard, you press it by contracting certain muscles and loosen it when you relax – so for tightening the abs imagine squeezing something between your belly button in and navel towards the spine.
Hold this contraction for 10 -15 secs then release. Practice this at least once a day to help spread out any imbalances caused by running and other activities e.g sitting at work/driving etc.
2- Strengthen the glutes
Strong glutes can reduce low back pain will which will help tighten up your hips in general as well as increase energy efficiency by reducing energy losses through the inefficient running form (see point 3)…strength exercises for glutes can be found in this video.
3- Improve your running form.
This is a more detailed article but most common issues include overstriding ( taking steps too long), leading with your chest, and not using the core correctly amongst other smaller corrections which ultimately result in an unbalanced body.
In my opinion, you should start off by working on improving your posture as this will have the biggest impact and helps remove stress from the lower back. Second, target weak areas like hamstrings/quads or strengthening of glutes to help balance everything out while also correcting inefficient running form.
Lastly, I would suggest having some 'off days' from running every now and then to allow any imbalances to correct themselves – so take a day off, maintain good posture throughout the day and when you run again be sure to use your core. You will soon feel a difference in tightness/pain levels if this is the cause of the issue.
If you are still experiencing lower back pain, it might be good to schedule a consult with a physical therapist. They are the experts in muscular-skelotol.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Me.