Running and jogging are excellent forms of aerobic exercise and can become an enjoyable part of one's daily routine. However, running involves repetitive jarring of spine and can worsen a current or emerging back problem.
How Running Causes Back Pain
- Joints and discs are jarred and compressed by the force of the body leaving the ground and landing on every stride when running or jogging
- Back muscles have to work to keep the body upright and in good posture during the duration of the run
- Other muscles associated with the kinetic chain (this is a linkage system that connects the muscles and joints of the body through the fascial system) may also influence back pain while running
Preventing Back Injuries from Running
- Use form that reduces the "up and down" stride motion and focuses on forward motion while running; this means leading with the chest, keeping the head tall and balanced over the chest
- Wear top-quality cushioned running shoes. Many sports medicine physicians advocate running with the added cushioning of high quality running shoes to help protect the joints and spine from the jarring impact of running
- While this approach is controversial, some studies indicate that running barefoot may be preferable than running with shoes. If this is an approach that sounds attractive, it is advisable to start slowly, first by walking barefoot and on a soft surface, such as grass or sand, and slowly progressing to walking on a hard surface, running on a soft surface and possibly running on a hard surface
- Consider running on softer surfaces, such as grass, a padded track, or treadmill rather than concrete or asphalt
Maintaining strong abdominal muscles and core body muscles will help stabilize the lower back while running, which in turn will help with keeping proper form and focusing on the forward motion.
For more information on core muscle strengthening see Back Exercises and Abdominal Exercise Recommendations and Core Body Strength Exercises
If running aggravates a current back condition, or if one is experiencing a flare-up of pain from a back condition such as degenerative disc disease, consider pausing the running routine and switching to a lower impact aerobic workout until the back pain subsides. Good alternatives for lower impact cardiovascular workouts include an elliptical machine, stair climber, or possibly swimming or pool therapy / water aerobics.
For more in-depth information, see Common Running Injuries: Back Pain on Sports-health.com.