Back Pain: Cause and Recovery

7 exercises to combat back pain when you run

How is back pain caused?

Back pain is a common but often overlooked running niggle. It is mainly found in three key areas: the upper back, lower back and sacroiliac joint.

Upper back pain can be caused by kyphosis (slouching posture), where your upper back becomes very rounded. This causes your head to move forwards, which can lead to pain in the upper back and in between your shoulder blades. It can also cause neck and shoulder pain, as well as headaches. Sitting at a desk is the biggest cause, combined with weak back muscles.

Lower back pain can be caused by lordosis, when your lower back has an exaggerated curve. This means that your hips roll forwards, which puts additional stress on your lower spine. Because your spine is not aligned properly when you run, the impact causes pain in your lower back. Tight hip flexors, weak back muscles and weak stomach muscles all cause pain in your lower back.

Pain around the sacroiliac joint (or SI joint), which sits next to your spine (where you see the dimples in your lower back), can cause general lower back pain and/or leg pain. This is known as sacroiliac joint disfunction. It can be caused by too much mobility in the SI joint. If this is the case, pain is normally felt on both sides, can transfer into the groin and can also cause pain in the hip area. It can be caused by too little mobility in the SI joint, too. If this is the case, the pain is normally to one side of the back and bottom but it can also radiate down your leg. It feels similar to sciatic nerve pain.

Recovery

For upper and lower back pain, it is important to firstly understand how correct posture feels and how far you are away from the correct posture. Practise the posture alignment exercise below daily to improve the nerve supply from your brain to your back muscles. Check your posture at work at your desk, in your car and when you sit on the sofa. It is then vital that you strengthen the muscles in your back; follow the below exercises and do the circuit twice a week. You can continue running but you have to focus on your posture while you run. And take an extra rest day if your back is sore. For lower back pain, practise pelvic tilts to help realign your pelvis, too. For sacroiliac joint disfunction, follow the same exercises set out below and avoid running for two weeks. Apply ice packs for 15-20 minutes on the SI joint for up to two weeks. Anti-inflammatory medication can also help reduce pain and swelling.

Sets and reps:

Perform three sets of 10-15 repetitions. Hold the stretches twice for 20 to 30 seconds.

Wall angels

Back Pain: Cause and Recovery

Muscles used:
Back muscles, shoulders (erector spinae, deltoids)

Why do it?
If you work at a desk, the chances are that you have rounded shoulders. When your shoulders round forwards, it puts additional stress on your spine when you run, especially when you get tired. This will help you improve your posture.

Technique:

  • Stand with your back against a wall or door
  • Put your arms at right angles against the wall
  • Ensure that your shoulders, elbows and hands are touching the wall
  • Straighten and extend your arms up until your thumbs touch (or as close as you can get)
  • Your arms should stay in contact with the wall at all times

Watch points:
If you struggle with shoulder tightness or bad posture, you might not be able to keep your arms against the wall.

Hip rolls

Back Pain: Cause and Recovery

Muscles used:
Side muscles, deeper stomach muscles (obliques, transverse abdominis)

Why do it?
Your side muscles support your back. Lack

of rotation can put pressure on your hips and especially the sacroiliac joint. This joint is where you see the two dimples in your lower back.

Technique:

  • Lie on your back on the floor
  • Extend your arms sideways and lift your legs up, with your knees bent at a right angle and your thighs at a right angle to your torso
  • Roll your legs over to one side until your knees touch the floor but don’t rest on the floor
  • Use your side muscles to lift your legs back to the centre position
  • Repeat the move on the other side

Watch points:
If your back is sore, keep your feet on the floor. If it gets easy, straighten your legs.

Posture alignment 

Back Pain: Cause and Recovery

 

Muscles used:
Back muscles (erector spinae)

Why do it?
Where we think a straight posture is might be completely different to where an anatomically correct posture is. Lining up a against a wall will give you an idea of how close your posture is to how it should be. It will also show up potential areas where you could develop pain or injuries.

Technique:

  • Stand with your back against a wall or door
  • Tilt your head up and down until you have lined the corner of your eye up with the middle of your ear
  • Ensure that you have a straight vertical line from the middle of your ear, middle of your shoulder, hip joint, knee and the bony prominence on the outside of your ankle (lateral malleolus)
  • Tilt your pelvis backwards to reduce the gap between your lower back and the wall (don’t completely flatten your back against the wall, though)
  • Move slightly away from the wall and try to maintain your posture

Watch points:
Don’t hold your breath or ‘suck in’.

Superman

Back Pain: Cause and recovery

Muscles used:
Back muscles (erector spinae)

Why do it?
This will strengthen your back muscles and improve your posture. If your upper back is rounded, you might find lifting your arms up is hard. If your glutes are weak, you might find lifting your legs hard.

Technique:

  • Lie on your stomach on the floor
  • Lift your left arm and right leg up off the floor
  • Lower your arm and leg
  • Repeat the move with your right arm and left leg
  • Keep alternating

Watch points:
Keep your head on the floor.

Crunches

Back Pain: Cause and Recovery

Muscles used:
Stomach muscles (rectus abdominis)

Why do it?
Your stomach muscles support your back muscles. If your stomach muscles are weak, it will be hard to keep a correct upright posture.

Technique:

  • Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent
  • Place your hands next to your temples
  • Pull your belly button to your spine and breathe in
  • Lift your head and shoulders off the floor and breathe out
  • Hold the top position for a second
  • Lower back to the floor

Watch points:
Perform slow controlled movements so you’re using your muscles, not momentum.

Good mornings

Back Pain: Cause and Recovery

Muscles used:
Back muscles, back thigh (erector spinae, hamstrings)

Why do it?
This will improve your hip mobility, hamstring flexibility and back strength – three very important components in preventing back pain.

Technique:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart
  • Hold a weight in each hand in front of your thighs with your palms facing your thighs
  • Bend forwards from your hips and lower the weights down to the floor while keeping your legs straight
  • Keep your back straight
  • Squeeze your bottom and lift up to the standing position

Watch points:
Keep your head up to prevent your upper back from rounding. If your back is sore, only lower as far as you feel comfortable.

Side leg lifts

Back Pain: Cause and Recovery

Muscles used:
Side muscles (obliques)

Why do it?
Strengthening your side muscles will help support your back. It will also improve your balance and can prevent you from falling over when you run.

Technique:

  • Lie on your side on the floor
  • Place one arm under your head for support and the other hand in front of your body on the floor for balance
  • Lift both legs off the floor
  • Hold the top position for a second before lowering your legs
  • Complete one set before changing over to the
    other side

Watch points:
Place a mat or a towel underneath your hipbone.


Women's Running

Written by Women's Running | 303 articles | View profile

Please comment on this article below

blog comments powered by Disqus

SAVE OVER £14 ON THE SHOP PRICE

SUBSCRIBE TO WOMEN'S RUNNING MAGAZINE

SIGN UP NOW

ENTER YOUR DETAILS BELOW TO RECEIVE ALL THE LATEST NEWS AND UPDATES FROM THE AWARD WINNING WOMEN'S RUNNING TEAM