Lower back pain when running? Why it happens and how to fix it
Why does my back hurt when I run?
Some of the main reasons why your back may hurt during or after a run include the following:
- Overly stiff or tight back - Caused by sitting for long periods or doing lots of exercise and no mobility work.
- Decreased strength in your core (stomach, back, and hip muscles) - Makes it easier to strain or irritate your back.
- Increasing your training intensity too quickly - Doesn't allow enough time for your back to strengthen, increasing your injury risk.
- Not allowing enough recovery time after runs - Doesn't allow your body the time it needs to rebuild and repair, predisposing you to overuse injuries. Other factors influencing recovery, like sleep or nutrition, may also play a role.
- A back injury unrelated to running - When injured, your back usually loses some strength and endurance and irritates easily. You may have to restore its strength before it can cope with the loads from running.
- Stress and anxiety - Cause the release of stress hormones (like cortisol), which can cause or increase pain.
The Back Pain rehab plan in the Exakt Health app helps you build strength while restoring your back's mobility. The app is tailored specifically for runners and includes a prevention (prehab) plan to help you remain injury-free after recovering.
Can I run with lower back pain?
Yes, in some cases, you may be able to run with lower back pain, but you may have to adjust how and where you run.
Some back injuries do, however, require you to stop running for a while. These include:
- Sciatica or nerve root compression
- Spinal cord compression
- Disc injuries
- Bone stress injuries, including stress fractures
- Severe back sprains
A physical therapist can help you understand when you're ready to safely return to running if you have one of these back injuries.
If your back pain doesn't fall into any of these categories, you may be able to continue running. Let's look at how you can decide if it's OK to continue.
How to decide if running is OK for your back
These are the steps a physical therapist would use to help you decide if you should stop, adjust, or continue running as usual:
- Observe how your back pain reacts during and in the 24 hours after a run
- If it is giving you signs that running is not good for it at the moment (see below), check if adjusting your speed, distance, frequency, terrain, etc., helps
- If running continues to irritate your back despite making adjustments, then it may be best to stop running for a while and focus on your rehab
- If you find that running does not affect your pain or that you can run pain-free by adjusting what you do, then it is likely OK to continue running within those parameters
❌Signs that running may not be good at the moment
- Your back is quite painful when walking
- When you try to run, your pain increases significantly (by more than 3/10)
- Your back feels OK while running, but it is a lot more painful several hours after a run, and it remains more sensitive and sore the next day
✅Signs that it may be OK to continue running
- Your pain does not increase significantly during a run - you may be a little more aware of your back pain, but it stays within your normal pain levels (what you feel even when not running) or gets better during the run
- Once you stop running, any extra discomfort you felt during the run calms down within a few hours
- There is no increase in your pain or discomfort the day after a run
How to adjust your running to help your back recover
An injured back generally cannot tolerate as much load or work as before it got injured.
To allow it to recover, it can help to temporarily reduce the work it has to do when you run to a level it can comfortably cope with.
Try to answer the question: How can I adapt my runs so they don't irritate my back?
Everyone is different, so it may take some trial and error to figure out your optimal plan.
How to adjust your running
We've previously discussed how to assess and correct your running form.
Don't forget to treat the cause!
Being injured sucks. But it can turn into a more positive experience if you can learn from it and take steps to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Often, several factors combine to cause back pain. Look back at the causes listed at the start of this article. Think about when and how yours started - do any of those causes apply?
If you feel that sitting at your desk was part of the problem, this article may help.
Did your training plan lack regular strength and mobility training? In that case, the workouts in the Exakt Health app can help. The app offers personalized guidance and evidence-based tips for smoothly and effectively managing and preventing injuries in runners.