Preventing Back Muscle Problems From Distance Running
I know I’m not the only female runner or male distance runner who has had back problems. Back pain falls into one of two categories: acute or chronic. Acute back pain is sudden, usually caused by something such as improper lifting. Chronic back pain is ongoing, long-term pain, often caused by issues involving tendons, muscles, or bones, or problems with organs, such as the kidneys. Even emotional issues can also induce back pain. Here are some useful ways of preventing back muscle problems before, during, and after running.
What is your job? Do you sit at a desk a lot? If so, consider a lumbar back support which keeps your back straight and in the best posture to prevent back pain. Lumbar back supports can be found in pharmacies, orthopedics, and online. Do your research or better yet try one out in person before purchasing!
Along with work posture goes sleeping posture. Do you know how you go to sleep at night? Do you place a pillow between your legs if you sleep on your side? Do you sleep on your back? Keep record of your own sleeping habits and see what best reduces your back pain. Also, talk to a physical therapist to see what you can do to best prevent back pain with your sleeping habits.
Ice and Heat
How can you use ice and heat to prevent back muscle problems from distance running? Make sure your back is warm and ready to go prior to running. We often don’t think about keeping our back ‘warm’ but it is important like all muscles, to keep it warm rather than cold. Apply heat pads if necessary before running.
Make sure to ice your back muscles after to prevent inflammation. Also, if you have access to a stimulation machine through a physical trainer, see how it can help your back muscles by increasing their blood flow through controlled contractions.
Drink Plenty of Water
it’s important to drink plenty of water every day. And, I discovered more relief from back pain about being conscientious about my water consumption every day.
In short, we need water to digest food and eliminate waste. Water cushions and lubricates our joints, keeps our skin cells healthy, gives us nutrients, and protects the intestinal tract lining from damage by enzymes that digest food. Water plays a key role in breathing. Also, make sure to get your electrolytes replenished after hard workouts and races.
Mix Your Workouts
Make sure you add variety to your harder workouts in order to build both your slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles. Your back in particular needs to recognize the difference in these types of muscles and how they react to specific workouts. Depending on what race you are training for, designate days for hill workouts and track workouts, days for trail running, and days for up-tempo longer runs. Back problems can often occur from doing the same workout each week and not allowing your back to feel what will be a simulation of your future racing conditions.
Along with mixing your workouts, add cool-downs and striders after your runs. Being an active runner in the San Diego Track Club, there is always a group approach where all runners participate in cool-downs and strider together. Striders in particular help open your stride which can often become much more closed during and after hard workouts.
Wear the Right Running Shoes
Spend the extra time in a running store where they can assist you by asking questions about your running and injury history, looking at your old shoes, and observing you run (seeing if you have a normal arch, flat arch, or high arch).
What Surface Are You Running On?
The surface you run on really matters. Are you running mostly on concrete, sidewalk, or grass? The harder the surface, the more pressure on your key joints. Try finding softer surfaces to run on whether they be grass or a mix of grass and trail running. See “Complete How-to Guide About Running on Varied Surfaces”.
Along with running surface comes cross-training. How many days do you cross-train in preparation in a typical week? Maintain a strong routine of cross-training whether it be biking, strength training, yoga or swimming. Swimming can be one of the best cross-training methods to build your back muscle (muscles you don’t actively use while running) and control your breathing at the same time.
Strengthen Your Core and Your Lower Back
When I was running competitively D3 in college, this is the first thing my physical trainer told me. Core and lower back strengthening and stretching. There are many ways to strengthen your core and you can find them online or by asking a core specialist. Core exercises I’ve found useful include:
- Timed planks in intervals of one minute
- Six-inches accompanied by scissor kicks
- Sit-ups with feet off the ground
- Superman’s laying stomach-first on the ground in intervals of 10 with a hold on the final 10
- Stretch hamstrings with help from a running partner
- Knee to chest holds
- Lying Knee Twist
- Cobra Stretch
The list provided here are a short list of many back strengthening and stretching exercises (not including Yoga which many distance runners find very valuable). It is also important to not overlook how stretching every part of your body can alleviate back pain. For me I found stretching my hip flexor, IT band, and calves played an integral role in alleviating back pain.
Also sports massages which hone in on psoas muscle (muscle located on the side of the lumbar region of the vertebral column and brim of the lesser pelvis) have been valuable for me. When the psoas is too short or tight, it can compress the spine. If your psoas is overstretched or weak, it can flatten the natural curve of your lumbar spine. Find what works for you and do your own research into what you discover the most effective exercises. Do you have back pain prevention tips you would like to share? Let us know below!
Do other kinds of exercise
Studies have shown that yoga, zumba and other similar activities can be beneficial for runners. This is because they help develop the smaller muscles you never stimulate when running. Try out a sport that has nothing to do with running and you will be surprised how much it can help you.