Low Back Pain from Running

Many runners present to our office saying that running has been causing them lower back pain recently. This is not an unusual thing to occur. Due to the anatomy of the lower back, running may greatly increase the burden the bones and joints of the lumbar spine and hip have to carry.

Many people already know that when running the amount of weight, or force, transmitted up the legs from the feet each time the foot hits the ground is a multiple of the person’s actual body weight. If a 200 lb. individual is running, each time one foot hits the ground because of the force of gravity and momentum that single foot will absorb more than 200 lb’s of force, and all that force must travel up the leg (the kinetic chain) and into the lower back and spine as it is dissipated. Running, therefore, puts a lot of force into the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may cause pain or health problems if their are imbalances in the body that cause this force to be asymmetrically transmitted, or if the back or legs or already weakened by injury and are unable to dissipate the forces adequately.

Sometimes this pain in the lower back is actually pain from the sacroiliac joints. These joints can be felt as two bony bumps at the bottom of your lower back, and at the top of your butt area. Many people complain of “low pack pain” and then point to these joints. Hip misalignments or imbalances in how force is transmitted upwards can cause pain at these joints. Because they are MAJOR weight-bearing joints and they are the main joints connecting the legs to the rest of the body, they are susceptible to misalignments knows as subluxations, and they often refer pain into the lower back or the buttocks.

Other times the pain is actually located in the low back, either in the muscles or in the joints. Muscular pain will likely be to the side of the spine bones, either on one side or both, and may be relieved with some heat or stretching. The question that must be answered is: what is causing the muscle problem?

  • Is it a lack of proper hydration causing cramping and spasm?
  • Is it a strain from lack of stretching beforehand?
  • Is it a strain due to bony misalignments at the points where the muscle originates or attaches?
  • Is it a muscle spasm caused by nerve irritation?
To properly resolve the muscle problem, the cause must be identified.
Many times, the issue is with the joints of the lower back, such as the discs or the facet joints. If this is a disc issue, you are likely experiencing increased pain with things like:
  • Bending over
  • Bending over with trunk rotation
  • Sitting, and getting up from being seated
  • Each time the foot hits the ground as you run
If it is a suspected disc problem, it is recommended that you consult a chiropractor (like me, hint hint!) and see if you can resolve the disc pain without drugs or surgery. If chiropractic is not sufficient, then consult an orthopedist and see if you are a candidate for surgery. BUT do not go straight to the orthopedist because you should begin with less-invasive options that are reversible, and you should NOT begin with highly-invasive and irreversible options.
The facet joints are often hard to pinpoint as the cause of the lower back pain. They may cause increased discomfort with:
  • Standing tall, or leaning backwards
  • Running downhill
  • Standing tall and rotating your trunk
Facet joints issues are typically simple to treat with chiropractic adjustments. The joints must be mobilized to ensure that there is no pressure on the adjacent spinal nerves. Postural advice or exercises would likely be beneficial.
If you think you may be experiencing some of these problems, call out office today at (301) 378-0334 and you can come in for a free, no-pressure consultation. The doctor will take a look at your issue, ask some questions, do some good listening, and let you know if we can help. Until then, run safely and drink plenty of water to make sure it isn’t an issue of dehydration causing muscle strain.