Is Running Good or Bad for Back Pain?

Back pain can throw a wrench into your training routine.

Back pain can throw a wrench into your training routine.

When your back hurts, going for a run can make things worse or help you feel better, depending on your body. You can treat the immediate pain with ice, anti-inflammatory non-steroidal medication and rest. Whether you should resume running depends on your strength, flexibility and how your back feels. Once the initial pain has subsided, you can usually ease back into light running. Add strength training and stretching into your routine as well to avoid future back issues.

Lumbar Sprains

Lumbar sprains account for about 75 percent of low back pain, according to Dr. Mark Jenkins of Rice University Sports Med Web. Acute symptoms last for a couple of days and most people see their back pain resolve within two weeks. The key is to find a form of exercise that keeps you moving but does not exacerbate the problem. Dr. Jenkins warns against too much rest, but also cautions against strenuous back workouts. He advises that you listen to your body and engage in light activity that keeps you mobile. Running can help with lumbar sprains, as long as you don’t overdo it.

Running vs. Weight Training

Before you hit the treadmill to help work out some lower back pain, pick up some weights instead. According to a study comparing the effects of weight training and jogging on lower back pain published in "The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" in March 2009, participants experienced a greater decrease in pain and increase in function after lifting weights. Weight-lifters experienced a 60 percent improvement of symptoms compared with a 12 percent improvement for the joggers. Exercise physiologist Robert Kell of the University of Alberta states that lifting weights offers greater improvement because resistance training works the whole body but aerobic activity, such as jogging, mainly works only the lower body.

Strength

Most cases of back pain are caused by stress and strain on the muscles on either side of the spine. Muscles that are too weak can lead to back pain, often caused by a sudden twisting or turning motion of the spine. Runners can prevent back pain by improving core strength. Strengthening abdominal and back muscles increases stability and can prevent back pain from returning. Dr. Jordan Metzl of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City recommends building core strength to prevent back pain.

Flexibility and Posture

Back pain may result from running with hunched shoulders or a slumped-forward posture. Running with an arched back (and your rear sticking out) can also lead to back pain. Stiff back muscles can lead to low back pain when running, so stretch them out before you run. Try single-leg and double-leg pelvic tilts, where you lie on your back with bent knees and draw one —or both -- knees toward your shoulders. Don’t forget to place a rolled towel under your neck for comfort. Ten reps each of both singles and doubles, held for a count of two, loosen up tight muscles by improving improve circulation and range of motion to loosen up tight muscles.

 

About the Author

Alissa Pond Mentzer worked in biotech research and educational publishing before becoming a freelance writer in 2005. She has contributed to textbooks for The Mcgraw-Hill Companies and National Geographic School Division and writes science articles for various websites. Mentzer earned a Bachelor of Arts from Rutgers University in anthropology and biological sciences.

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