Running is both great for the body and hard on the body. It conditions the muscles and joints and it gives you a good aerobic workout, which keeps your heart healthy and weight within a healthy range.
But the relentless impact of your feet against the ground can put you at risk for injuries, particularly in your lower limbs and back. Through a sudden, acute injury—but much more often through repetitive wear and tear—the joints, muscles, and other soft tissues of the back can become damaged or strained. This is especially true for distance runners.
The good news is running-related back pain is treatable—many times with a full recovery. Also, you can take steps to prevent back pain from running before it starts.
A running shoe is not just a running shoe. There are several factors that can help determine what the right shoe for you should be, including:
- The height of your arches
- Your pronation style (in other words, how your foot hits the ground and rolls through each stride)
- How much distance you plan to run
A running specialist or doctor can help analyze your gait and make recommendations.
Once you have the right shoes, you still need to take care of them. Don’t put shoes in the dryer, which can deform their internal structure, and replace them every 250 miles or when they show significant wear.
Before you run
Once you have the right shoes, you’re almost ready to hit your stride. But first, take a few minutes before your run to warm up both your core muscles and your leg muscles. You can do this a few different ways:
- Start your run by walking for 1 to 2 minutes, then speed up to a jog before finally hitting your intended speed.
- Do a few minutes of aerobic activities such as jumping jacks, burpees, or push-ups.
- Practice a few yoga poses.
It may also help you foam roll your hip and hamstring muscles before you begin running.
After you run
The same way you shouldn’t suddenly start running, you also shouldn’t suddenly stop either. A cooldown after your run is an important tactic to prevent back pain.
The best way to cool down is to reverse the warm-up listed above: slow to a jog, then walk for a few minutes. And don’t forget to stretch—experts agree that post-workout stretching provides the most benefits.
In addition to maintaining your running shoes in good condition, there are other long-term measures you can take to prevent back pain from running.
In fact, these may be some of the most important tips you can follow, because most back injuries develop over time as a result of repetitive errors in training or form:
- Be careful to avoid overtraining. Run only 3 to 4 days a week, and include a rest day with no workout once a week.
- When you’re ramping up your running program to prepare for a race or event, don’t increase daily running totals by more than 2 miles a week. Also, don’t increase speed and distance simultaneously.
- Have a running coach evaluate your form while running, since factors like how long your stride is or how your heel hits the ground can significantly influence your risk for injury over time.
- Crosstrain by alternating running with strength training and/or other types of exercise. Focus on activities that can strengthen your core, like an exercise ball routine.
By taking a few precautions, you can help prevent back pain as a result of running. But even if back pain develops, there are ways you can keep running despite it. Watch for another blog post coming soon about managing back pain, so you can keep running.
Read more: Exercises to Lessen Back Pain While Running