So many runners experience lower back pain at some point in their running life. Lower back pain is not an easy affliction because as a runner, the pain can be caused by and come from various sources. Unfortunately, lower back pain is rarely the result of one issue. As runners, we have a mix of factors that can cause mechanical stress on our body, as well as deficits in strength, mobility and coordination of core, hips, leg muscles, poor posture and gait mechanics.
When we experience lower back pain it is very important to see a physio therapist. But here is some information to help runners prevent or reduce the lower back pain issues.
Focus on adjusting the alignment: When our pelvis is in a neutral position, the load on the spine is evenly distributed, reducing the risk of lower back pain. If the pelvis tilts forward (anterior) or backward (posterior) the spine and muscles that work to keep it stable are put in disadvantaged position. A runner with tight hip flexors and quadriceps may run with an anterior pelvic tilt, which can increase the compression on the vertebrae. Add the impact of many kms of running, the result- lower back pain. Another problem is when a runner has very tight glutes, this can lead to a tucked tailbone (posterior pelvic tilt), and again this can cause lower back pain. To find our neutral pelvic position as a runner is not easy. We need to try shifting our weight forward and back until it is distributed evenly and we feel the more balanced form. Our ribs should be over our hips, to test this position when we inhale, the area around the lower ribs should expand, not the chest or belly. Another important factor is to be able to release the grip in the glutes, there’s a difference between engaging and using our glutes when running as opposed to just keeping them tight. A proper running form is very important to make sure our muscles are evenly engaged. Leaning slightly forward so that our foot lands underneath our body, not forward is important. Also make sure to aim for a cadence closer to 170-180 steps/minute.
Strengthen the core and glutes: In our core, we have some tiny slow-twitch postural muscles that help stabilize the spine. If these muscles are not firing up in a coordinated way when we run, other muscles will overcompensate such as the hip flexors, glutes, rectus abdominus and erector spinae muscles and will pull on the spine and destabilize it. We need to train our deep core muscles to strengthen all the essential muscles required to produce a neutral pelvic form. We need to include exercises such as Bird Dogs, Planks, Bridges, Squats and Lunges, Clamshells, Donkey Kicks. Having weak or inactive glutes can increase the risk of having lower back pain, especially women tend to be quad-dominant.
Fix your sitting form: It’s not just the time spent sitting that affect our running form, but also our sitting position. To achieve a neutral pelvis, we need to sit on the bony part of our butt, make sure you untuck the tailbone to find the bony part. Line up your sternum with your pubic bone, make sure you lift your chest. If you have to sit for a long time, make sure you take breaks to stand up every 20-30mins.
Train Hard, Eat Right, and Feel Great!