Low Back Pain: Rehab For Runners
Low back pain is a common, frustrating injury for runners. In this article, I’ll share why runners are prone to recurring bouts of back pain and what you can do to fix it.
Low back pain isn’t uncommon among runners. In fact, research shows that in a single year, up to 10% of all runners need to take time off because of low back pain.
Although a lot of runners deal with this injury, it’s not usually something that keeps you on the sidelines for too long. Most runners find that their pain improves quickly within a few weeks simply by resting, stretching and doing some light exercises.
However, although low back pain resolves relatively quickly, it tends to be recurring – meaning that it’s an injury that keeps coming back every few months or years. Runners who deal with low back pain find themselves doing the same rehab over and over again.
Part of the reason for this is that runners tend to only do stretches and core exercises while fixing the injury. Once the pain subsides, most runners just go back to their normal training routine, forgetting the exercises that helped them while they were injured. However, to prevent low back pain from recurring, the key is to continue strengthening & building up a strong support system around your back.
That is why I recommend runners complete a full 8-week rehab program, even if their pain goes away after the first couple of weeks. Then after rehab, runners should continue doing regular core strengthening at least once a week. Sporadic, once-in-a-while strengthening is simply not enough.
Why is Core Strength Important for Low Back Pain?
The muscles of your core are the foundation for all your movement and are arguably the most important muscles in your body. They support your spine, stabilize your pelvis and control your leg movements. Basically, without core muscles, you’d be a blob on the floor.
As a runner, you rely on your core to keep you upright and moving forward smoothly. If you have a weak core, you’ll tend to run with a heavier, ‘sloppy’ gait and place a lot of extra unnecessary stress on your spine, pelvis and leg joints.
But although core weakness will seriously affect your running performance, it won’t stop you from actually being able to run in the first place. That’s because our bodies have an awesome ability to find ways around weaknesses. This is what we call compensation. If certain muscles are weak, your body will simply recruit other muscles to take over and do the job instead.
While this sounds like a great solution, it’s actually kind of like putting duct tape over a leaking pipe – it will only hold for so long. Sooner or later, you’ll need to fix it properly.
This research study conducted in 2018 found that not only were these muscle compensations less efficient, they also caused extra stress on the spine which explains why so many runners with a weak core end up with back pain.
What Core Exercises Are Best For Low Back Pain?
Unlike training other muscles in your body, such as the biceps or quads, the goal of core strengthening isn’t to make the muscle bigger or more ‘powerful’; the goal of core strengthening is to make the muscles work more efficiently.
The best core exercises are ones where you have to control and brace your trunk, such as planks, bird dogs, and dead bugs.
To help runners treat low back pain better, I created this 8-week low back rehab program. In it, I guide you through a step-by-step home rehab plan with exercises that will gradually strengthen your core and relieve pressure in your lower back. There are over 50 exercises in that program, but to give you a taste, here are 6 of my favorites:
Exercise 1: Cross Body Stretch
Exercise 2: Hip Combo Stretch
Exercise 3: Alternate T Plank
Exercise 4: Bird Dog
Exercise 5: Plank with Knee Lifts
Exercise 6: Wall Press with Rotations
Ready to Start your Rehab?
Take a look inside our 8-week Rehab program: