An avid runner with a marathon personal best of 2:46 set in Boston, physical therapist Steve Vighetti, MPT, MTC, FAAOMPT, CSCS, is a faculty member who teaches Running Rehabilitation continuing education seminars and in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. He also works with runners and other athletes at his practice in St. Augustine, Florida.
Running Back Pain
For recreational runners, lower-back pain after running is a common complaint that can be attributed to core dysfunction in many ways. Our core not only moves our trunk in all directions, but more importantly, provides a stable base for our leg muscles to move our legs. Without that solid base, our legs become less efficient at propelling our body forward.
What Causes Back Pain from Running?
For example, the culprit in many running-related injuries is weakness of the outside hip muscles. When we are standing on our right leg, it is the right outside hip muscles that prevent our pelvis from dipping down too far on the left side. If they are weak, then our left pelvis dips down excessively setting the runner up for a host of leg injuries as well as low-back pain that results from excessive side bending over the stance leg. This is called a compensated Trendelenburg gait.
Another example of how core muscle weakness can contribute to low-back pain is in their ability to withstand the forces of hitting the ground an average of 1,500 times each mile. Every time your foot hits the ground while running, you hit the ground with a force approximately 2 ½ times your body weight.
Your core must be ready to support the body and absorb those forces by acting much like the shocks on cars. We know when we need new shocks because we can feel every bump in the road. The shocks no longer can absorb the road bumps and we feel the effects. If our core is weak, those forces go straight to the joints in our legs and our low back instead of being absorbed by the muscles. The constant pounding can lead to pain and injury.
Core Strengthening Exercises for Runners
It’s not as bad as it sounds though, because our body was made to be used. If our core muscles are strong enough to handle running and you have good running form, then injury prevalence decreases.
Some simple strengthening exercises to strengthen your core:
- Forearm planks-focus on the transverse abdominus
- Side planks on your elbow (left- and right-side planks)—emphasis on the transverse abdominus as well as the obliques
- Supermans (on your belly, raising both arms and legs)
- Spidermans for obliques (start in push-up position and bring your knee to the outside of the opposite elbow)
- Bridge walkouts
- Mountain climbers
Aim for 30 seconds for each core strengthening exercise and progress up to 1-2 minutes each. It is important to perform this core exercise routine each day but not before your run. You want your core as strong as possible for your running activity.
Just remember that you have four sides to your core—front, back, left, and right. Make sure that when you choose your core strengthening exercises, you target all four sides in your exercise selection.