Runners often experience lower back pain or muscle tightness due to the repetitive jarring over long distances. Stretching offers short term relief, but the pain returns run after run. The issue may lie elsewhere.
You might be fit, but are you strong? If the muscles essential to running are weak, your back may be picking up the extra load.
Strengthening hamstrings, core, hip flexors or glutes will alleviate pressure on your back. Some simple exercises will help build strength.
- Hip bridge: lie on your back and put the soles of your feet flat on the ground so your knees are pointing to the sky. Press down on your heels so your hips move up until your body and thighs are aligned in a straight line. Hold for two seconds and lower your body. Complete three sets of 10 reps.
- Walking lunges: Take a big stride, then lower your back leg until it is close to the ground, then drive through your front leg into the stranding position. Take another big stride forward with the other leg and repeat the process. Hold weights in each hand to make it hard as you lunge across the room.
- Hip flexors
- Single leg Romanian dead lifts: stand on one leg, slowly lean forward and lift your other leg. Rotate from the hips until your back and lifted leg are parallel to the ground, then bring your body back upright to the standing position. Complete three sets of eight. Hold a weight in one hand, the hand opposite the supporting leg, for added resistance.
- Dead ant: lie on your back. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the ground and hold your hands above your head. Slowly straighten and lower one of your legs, and slowly drop the opposite hand. Just before your hand and foot hit the ground, lift them back up and repeat with the other leg and arm. Do the dead ant for four sets of 45 seconds or as part of a core circuit. The plank is also a good core exercise, as it also engages the muscles either side of your spine.
Immobile hips are common for those sitting all day in an office. They are more common still among runners used to using their hips over long distances after days in a chair. Simple remedies can release your hips.
- Ball rolling
- Sit on a stiff ball, like a lacrosse ball, cross your foot over to your other thigh and then roll around to search for tight spots. The release will stop your hips or glutes pulling on your lower back.
- The flexors on the front of your hips actually come up and around your pelvis, often tugging on your lower back. Stride forward into the lunge position and then push your hips forward until you feel the stretch. You can put your back knee on the ground to help, or keep the weight on your feet to make the movement more dynamic. Try lifting your arm, too, as that will increase the stretch.
Too much, too soon
If you have just discovered the joys of running, congratulations and welcome to the community. However, your body will need time to adjust. Muscles your body is not used to using will flare up, need recovery and then get stronger and used to the sport.
So, start slow. Sprinting off to set your 5km personal best is not a good idea on week one. A solid base of aerobic fitness and time on your feet will increase the longevity of your time in the sport. You have the rest of your life to run – what’s the rush?
Your gait may also be causing issues. Seek expert advice from a running coach to see if your running style is the source of your pain.