Why do I get low back pain when I run?

Why do I get low back pain when I run?

Health & Fitness Blog

Subscribe to stay in the know


With the lovely warm weather in Sydney this past weekend, my running shoes called.

A few of my clients must have felt the same way.

One of them wrote to me on Monday night sharing that his Sunday run around the Bay didn’t quite go to plan. He noticed that about 2km in, his lower back started to feel a bit tight. He was good and tried to settle it by slowing down, and by even taking on some smaller strides. But unfortunately this time it wasn’t until he stopped and walked for a bit that his back pain eased.

So what’s the story?

Why do so many of us experience back pain when we run?

We’ve talked about the pros and cons of running in previous blogs (click here). It certainly is an activity which beckons with warmer weather, longer days and that general spring time feel. And with more and more fun runs and local events popping up around the place (still time to register for the City to Surf!) there are no shortage of opportunities to get out there and give running a go.

As a clinician, I am often mentioning how complex running actually is! And despite its convenience, (all you need are a pair of shoes and you are good to go!) there is a good deal of work involved to maintain all the necessary ingredients that are required to achieve regular runs which feel good!

So if you have experienced back pain when you run, you are not alone! It’s actually quite common. Here are a few of the more common factors that can contribute to low back pain when running.

Poor mobility
Do you struggle to put your shoes on? Or find yourself sitting down for a decent chunk of the day? The muscles around our hips and lower back can easily get tight with long periods sitting or with a lack of movement. They can also get tight with lifting weights at the gym. Muscles which don’t move through an ideal range of motion can easily contribute to low back pain. As a general rule, it’s great if you are able to touch your toes with straight legs! Being able to sit cross legged on the floor, and being able to let you leg extend behind you whilst you stay upright are other quick things you can try and perform to get a sense of how flexible you are in the hips and lower back. If you find these areas are not moving freely, then investing some time to increase their movement is a good place to start. The use of foam rollers, spikey balls or finding a good massage therapist are just some of the ways we can achieve a greater range of motion in tight areas. Some individuals may also require specific drills to help encourage these muscles to remain nice and mobile. 

Lack of muscular endurance
Running involves a complex series of muscular contractions happening over and over again. It is amazing that our bodies are able to do this in such a short period of time as we take each step. As running is what we would classify as a repetitive activity, its important that over time we build adequate levels of strength and endurance in the muscles needed to help propel us forward. It’s important to build up your running volume gradually, to allow your muscles to slowly adapt to the requirements running places on them. In addition to a gradually progressed running program, it’s great to also do some targeted strength work. Running can be broken down to a number of different sections, and we can isolate or target different muscles with specific exercises. Making sure these muscles develop the needed level of endurance to keep you upright and moving forward can also help lower your risk of experiencing lower back pain. As we fatigue, we are all more likely to stoop forward or lose optimal running form. The more we can delay this fatigue, the better! Weighed squats, lunges in different directions and, deadlift variations are all excellent examples of strength exercise suitable for running.

Issues with technique
Despite running being a convenient activity, (all you need is a pair of shoes and you are good to go!) it is actually quite a demanding and complex activity! Think of how much time most of us in Australia spent in our early years learning to swim! And even after all those lessons, I unfortunately to this day remain a very average swimmer. Ideally it would be great if all of us received the same level of coaching with running! The are so many useful tips and tricks which can be taught by a good health practitioner or running coach, and these can go a long way in helping you remain an efficient and durable runner. When we perform running assessments, we look at things like cadence, foot strike, hip extension as well as ground reaction force. These can all be broken down into specific drills which can be practiced and improved over time.

Efficient and pain free running is the sum of many parts. Flexibility, muscular endurance and a great running technique are all things that can be measured and improved over time to help you run with greater ease and reduce the risk of low back pain!

We know how hard maintaining a regular exercise routine is and there is nothing more demotivating than when your running is plagued with back pain. We are here to make your running and training feel as good as possible. If you want to chat to one of the team or book in for a running assessment please contact us below.

We are more than happy to help!


Health & Fitness Blog

Enter your details for health advice, updates, tips and free downloads