Five Top Reasons Your Back Hurts After Running

back pain from running

Stop! Check your spinal alignment, even if your running partner is eye-catching.

Running yourself into the ground is more than just a euphemism for many with back pain after taking up jogging; the repetitive stress and shock to the spine means that there are many reasons for back pain after running. Before you throw your trainers out and give up on exercise altogether, look at these five top reasons why your back hurts after running and you might be surprised by the simple changes you can make to get you back on (the) track.

Running with a partner

It might sound counter-intuitive but running with a partner can mean a higher propensity for injury for at least three reasons. Firstly, you’re likely to be talking as you run, which affects your breathing and can lead to poor tissue oxygenation and muscle cramps and strains, especially in the abdomen. Think about it next time you’re running, if you’re chatting you’re not breathing right and you can feel your abdomen tense up – this is not good for your back.

The second trigger is simply turning whilst running in order to face your running partner, thus twisting your back or neck without even realizing. Your spine is now out of alignment and so every shock to your discs is compounded by the twisting. Thirdly, you may not run at a good pace, feeling like you have to keep up with your partner or running even when your body is screaming at you to have a day of rest and recuperation. We’re not saying always run alone, but make sure to keep looking ahead, stop nattering and give up when necessary!

Wearing the wrong shoes

It’s not quite true that all bad workmen blame their tools and when it comes to running, having the right shoes can mean the difference between a short-lived new year resolution and a long and prosperous healthy activity. It may take some time to find the ideal running shoe for your stride, size, surface and comfort level but it is a mission worth persevering with.

Talk to someone experienced with running shoes, go to a specialist running shop rather than simply picking up a cheap pair of unsupportive trainers at the outlet store. It also pays to replace your running shoes regularly as their cushioning wears away and the idiosyncrasies of your running style cause wear on certain sides of the sole.

Not warming up properly

You’re barely awake, you pull on your running shoes, grab the dog’s leash and hurl yourself outside into the cold morning air, adamant that you’ll get at least 5k in before work or your day will be ruined. You hit the pain barrier at the 2k mark, feel admonished by your dog’s cynical expression, head home and give up, convinced that your back pain prevents you from exercising. Sound familiar? It needn’t be.

Not only is early morning prime time for heart attacks to happen, it is also the point where your body has been inactive for longest, meaning that all your muscles and connective tissues are not quite ready to be stretched and squashed and pulled and twisted by the strain of running. Give yourself a little time to wake up, warm up and gear up before heading out. Do some gentle stretching including arm, neck, shoulder and back stretches, not just your legs. Start by walking for a block or two, then do a couple of blocks running, another round of walking and give your body a chance to fully get into its stride before you force it. That 5k will be done in no time, your dog will be proud of you, and you’ll be a step closer to maintaining or achieving a healthy body weight.

Wearing the wrong bra

This one is likely only for the women runners reading this (although men with gynaecomastia would do well to have some appropriate support when running). Around three-quarters of women wear the wrong bra on a daily basis, which can, even in small chested women, lead to back problems over time. This is compounded when doing high impact exercise such as running as the movement of the breasts due to gravity can pull at the muscles in the chest, shoulders and back. Optimum support from a well-fitted sports bra means that the movement of the breasts is minimized and the weight is more centralized. Specialist sports bras like the one to the right can even help correct posture for some runners.

As an additional benefit, the connective tissue in the breasts is better protected and so pertness and firmness are maintained. Just be sure not to wear too tight a sports bra when running as this can restrict proper breathing and, as mentioned above, reduced tissue oxygenation increases the risk of muscle injuries and pain. It’s best to go for a fitting and do some practice bouncing and jogging on the spot in the dressing rooms.

Running when you shouldn’t

Do you know when enough is enough? Being motivated and persistent is one thing but running even when your body is crying out for a break is a surefire way to injure your spine. This kind of high impact exercise is good for building and maintaining bone density but it can quickly cause degeneration of the joints when the body is given no time to recuperate. Try switching things up and doing cross-training, run one day, lift weights or swim the next, cycle, use a jogging trampoline, or simply have a rest from any exercise other than walking.

Muscles get stronger in their recovery as they heal the tiny tears made during exercise. Without rest, these tears just pile up and muscles get weaker and more prone to injury. If you’re not sure of what kind of schedule to get into for running then talk to a personal trainer with experience in strength and conditioning training, so that you can work around existing back pain and reduce your risk of injury.

Next steps

If you have specific back issues like spinal stenosis then it is important to talk to your physician and, ideally, a physical therapist, prior to beginning any running regime. There are numerous other reasons why your back hurts after running but these five are a good starting point to think about before you slip on those trainers and pound the pavements.

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