How Runners Can Prevent Chronic Back Pain

Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: January 8, 2018

Runners Back Pain

Whether you’re an amateur or avid runner, you’re probably familiar with the aches and pains that come during and after a long run. Your feet and legs would seem to take the biggest beating, but another area of your body that can be prone to acute or chronic pain is your spine. Recently, researchers at Ohio State University sought to determine why chronic back pain is common in runners, and what can be done to prevent and treat it.

For their study, researchers at OSU examined the biometrics and force exerted by runners using sensors and other tracking methods.

“We measured the dimensions of runners’ bodies and how they moved to create a computer model that’s specific to that person. That allows us to examine how every bone moves and how much pressure is put on each joint,” said Ajit Chaudhari, associate professor of physical therapy and biomedical engineering at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who led the study. “We can then use that simulation to virtually ‘turn off’ certain muscles and observe how the rest of the body compensates.”

Core Problems

After looking at the biometric data, researchers discovered that runners with weaker core muscles were at a higher risk for developing chronic low back pain. They also found that most runner’s deep core muscles were not nearly as strong enough as they should be.

A closer look revealed that weak deep core muscles force more superficial muscles like your abs to work harder, meaning they fatigue faster. These muscles then end up overworked since they are overcompensating for weakened deep core muscles, which can lead to an onset of chronic low back pain.

“When your deep core is weak, your body is able to compensate in a way that allows you to essentially run the same way,” Chaudhari said. “But that increases the load on your spine in a way that may lead to low back pain.”

It’s not uncommon for even well-conditioned athletes or gym disciples to ignore their core muscles. Much of the focus can often end up on your arms and legs, and when you ignore your core, your back can get sore.

So what core exercises should you be working on to help avoid back pain during and after a run? Researchers say that some exercises like sit-ups and back extensions will not work your core in the ways needed to strengthen these deep core muscles. Instead, runners should opt for exercises like planks, which focus on stabilizing and strengthening the deep core.

“Working on a six-pack and trying to become a better runner is definitely not the same thing. If you look at great runners, they don’t typically have a six-pack but their muscles are very fit,” said Chaudhari. “Static exercises that force you to fire your core and hold your body in place are what’s really going to make you a better runner.”

So keep these tips in mind if you want to help prevent spine pain as a runner, and if you are dealing with spine discomfort, be sure to reach out to Dr. Sinicropi today.

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