IS RUNNING BAD FOR YOUR BACK?

It's often said that running isn't great for your back, and that repeated impacts "crush" your vertebrae... Is this just an excuse not to go running, or really a lumbar time bomb? We asked a sports physiotherapist to tell us more.

When talking about the back and running, we mostly concentrate on the lumbar region (lower back), which is usually the affected area when it comes to back pain for runners.

From a physiological point of view, the lumbar spine is closely linked to your pelvis, which is connected to your legs via the hip joint. The lumbar spine has various functions: support (posture, internal organs via the abdominal muscles), mobility (although mostly as flexion-extension), cushioning and force transmission.

Therefore, it's important to understand that it is complicated to talk about the back in isolation when it comes to running, as many other parts of the body are involved in running movements. Nevertheless, that's what we're going to try to do in this article.

 

CAN YOU RUN WHEN YOUR BACK HURTS?

It is increasingly recognised that stopping all exercise when your back hurts isn't necessarily the best thing to do. Like all pathologies, obviously it's important to rest up when the pain is at its most acute. Then you need to try to find out where the pain is coming from in order to treat it properly.

Here we must stress that the problem could be linked to a disc problem, more precisely, a slipped disc. If this is the case, you must see a doctor who will carry out the necessary exams to establish how serious the problem is.

In all other cases, the right treatment should get you back on your feet and allow you to start exercising normally again.

Then, you'll have to try to find out where the pain is coming from. Just like all the structures in the body, the lumbar spine has a set potential of adaptation, and it cannot stand any exertion beyond this limit.

We all have a capacity of adaptation, and if you stay within these limits, you reduce your risk of injury. Of course, this premise applies to all the structures in the body.

 

CAN YOU PREVENT BACK INJURIES WHEN RUNNING?

We've already seen that the lumbar spine plays a role in mobility. To look after your joint mobility, you need to do a few essential stretches.A number of muscle groups need to be stretched, as these are directly connected to your back: your hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thighs), your adductor muscles (inner), your glutes (outer) and your quadriceps (at the front of your thighs).

You also need to stretch your quadratus lumborum (located on your sides), your iliopsoas muscle (continuing on from your quadriceps), and your calves… all of which are linked to your back and the contractures it may suffer.

Remember, the lumbar spine also plays a support role that you can improve by doing specific core exercises. Seek advice, notably from a physiotherapist, before you start doing these kinds of exercises, as it is only too easy to do them in the wrong position, which tends to weaken the body rather than strengthening it.

It is also a good opportunity to ask your physiotherapist to check there is no joint misalignment (pelvis, hips, knees etc.) or any inner organ or fascia issues… It may be necessary to analyse your stride if the problem persists.

 

In a nutshell, running is a great way to keep fit, but it is essential to do it properly. It is also rarely the sole culprit behind back problems. When you are in shape, your running performance and everyday life will improve. We were made to move, so there's no reason to stop!

 

Matthieu Almoyner

This article was co-written by Matthieu Almoyner, physiotherapist specialized in sports.

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