Back pain is very often a multifaceted problem, stemming from a range of different contributing factors. As a runner, there is more than likely a handful of things you could improve upon to rid yourself of back aches and niggles (much like the niggles anywhere else in your body). The great thing about sorting out the cause of your back pain is that, because the spine is the foundation of your skeleton (i.e. your limbs hinge from your spine), once you get it sorted the rest of your aches and pains tend to go away as well. Just like our previous article on dealing with the cause of your knee pain rather than strapping some tape over the symptoms, we have compiled a few ideas for you to think about for the health and function of your back:
How many hours a week do you run? And how many hours are you seated or sedentary? For many of us, we run somewhere between a few hours up to 10+ hours (for the highly committed athletes) per week. However, even for those whose training volume is relatively high, its nothing compared to the 20-40 hours per week spent sitting at a desk (or similar). You have to realise that these seated or sedentary hours are moulding you – slowly shortening your hip flexors, stiffening your hip and lower spinal joints – and your body is creating a memory of this sedentary pattern. The complete contrast between sitting for 6-8 hours a day and then going for an hour run in the morning or evening can actually be quite difficult for the nervous system to adapt to and the damaging to the musculoskeletal system.
Try to mould more of an upright and dynamic posture and motor pattern in your body by breaking up long periods of sitting with a stroll around the office. Better yet, opt for a standing desk! Skip the short drive to work and walk or bike instead; skip the elevator and give the hips a spin up the stairwell. The bottom line is: move more.
Asymmetry and imbalance
Following on from the previous point, as human beings we naturally end up with muscular asymmetries and therefore functional imbalances throughout the body due to our daily habits. Examples of this include always using your dominant hand to write, type or brush your teeth, only ever lifting or carrying things one way, leading a stair climb with the same leg every time, and so on and so forth. While this is normal and natural, it can become apparent (often as a niggle or pain) in a very symmetrical and repetitive activity like running.
It is important to regularly spend time on exercises that help to bring about balance and restore functional symmetry in the body. This includes, but is not limited to, cross training (gym, boot camp, yoga, pilates) and daily mobility training (click here).
Poor running technique or biomechanics
Funnily enough, not many people actually know how to run well. Most of us go through a thought process somewhere along the lines of “it’s just running, there’s nothing to it. Just put on some running shoes and put one foot in front of the other!”
This line of thinking would have worked 2000 years ago, before the advent of paved roads, chunky “running shoes” and before we began to spend our days predominantly sitting down. For these reasons – and many more – most people have gross musculoskeletal dysfunction when compared to the optimal biomechanics of running. A good sign of this is pain. Ankle pain, knee pain, hip pain or back pain. A common time to experience back pain while running is while on an incline, climbing a hill. Too much hip flexion and not enough use of the ankle’s range of motion can contribute to a lower back ache.
So, what to do? Have a coach check out your running style and give you one or two things to focus on. It’s remarkable how much things can change with a little technical analysis.
A lack of maintenance work
Yoga, pilates, massage and chiropractic care are all fantastic methods for ensuring both optimal function and complete recovery in any athlete. Too often they are overlooked as unnecessary or an expense. If you reset your priorities and change up your perspective, being sure to spend more time each week at yoga and consider the chiropractor as an investment in your performance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Back pain (and aches elsewhere) will become a distant memory and your running will become an even more enjoyable venture.
We’ve written about running shoes already. Check out that article here. Basically, a good shoe will allow your foot to move like a foot is meant to. The human foot has 26 bones and 33 joints; these joints need to move! When they’re blocked up with a heavy, inflexible shoe it’s no wonder you end up with painful issues further up the skeleton!
James Kuegler Coaching suggests a shoe that is 1) flat, 2) flexible, 3) shaped like a foot, and 4) close to the ground.
If you’d like some advice with any of this – whether it be picking the right shoes, writing a training programme or finding a chiropractor near you – get in touch.