Back Pain When Running: Causes and 15 Exercises to Treat It
When you head out for a run, you expect to have tired legs, burning lungs, and general exhaustion — what you don’t often expect to have is lower or upper back pain during or after running.
But surprisingly enough, back pain amongst runners is a very common thing, particularly in less experienced runners, those with improper running technique, or weak back and glute muscles (which is most of us!).
So if you’ve ever experienced back pain when running, you know just how annoying and painful it can be.
Back pain is common and can have other complex causes unrelated to running (such as stress). Even though it’s often not serious, it’s smart to be cautious. Consult your doctor — especially if you feel unwell and pain spreads to the leg (numbness/tingling) or does not improve with rest. When in doubt, check it out!
In the following article we’ll answer your most common questions:
Why do we get back pain while running, anyway?
If you think about it, your back has an enormous role to play when it comes to running.
- When you run, you have to hold your body upright — sometimes for a very long time.
In order to do this, your back has to work with the rest of your body to keep you moving and upright. If your muscles are not up to the task, you may get upper or lower back pain.
Why does my lower back hurt when running?
When it comes to your lower back, leg and core strength, flexibility, and coordination all play an important role:
- Your core muscles have to work hard to support your spine and lower back.
- When running, your core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings have to join forces to keep you stable.
What happens when one muscle or a group of muscles become fatigued?
- Your lower back has to work harder to keep you upright and on your feet, which can cause pain, or worst case scenario — injury.
Why does my upper back hurt when running?
If you’re experiencing more pain in your upper back instead of your lower back, it’s often a result of your head position:
- A lot of upper back pain is a result of having your head leading your body — jutting out in front of your body — causing unnecessary tension and stress on the upper back.
- Another likely culprit of upper back pain is your arms. If you’re holding your arms up too tight or maybe even too high, or tensing your shoulders up towards your ears (which is common when the body is fatigued), it can cause strain on your upper back.
What can you do to prevent back pain when running?
To prevent back pain when running, the best thing you can do is to work on your strength and flexibility.
You need a strong core to support your spinal muscles, and strong, flexible legs (glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings) to hold the body upright and stable while you run.
This is why cross-training — incorporating strengthening movements into your running routine — is so important! If you want to run for a long time, you have to protect your body by strengthening the muscles that keep your body moving and upright — it’s as simple as that.
What are the best bodyweight exercises to prevent back pain during and after running?
Thankfully, there are ways to lessen the stress on your back and make running a little more comfortable — well, unless you ask your legs, of course. As long as you are experiencing back discomfort, stick with easy, comfortable runs.
If you’re asking yourself “how do I get rid of back pain when running,” try the following 16 bodyweight exercises:
3. Single Leg Balance & Reach (Shin) L/R)
Challenging? Start with Single Leg Balance L/R!
4. High Plank Leg Lifts
5. Single Leg Bridge L/R
6. Mod. Low Side Plank Lifts L/R
7. Quadruped Limb Raises
8. Superman Pull
For upper back tension try Wall Lateral Pull-Downs, too.
9. Single Leg Deadlift L/R
10. High Plank Limb Raises
11. V Ups
If you’re struggling to control your form, try Single Leg V-Ups.
12. Single Leg Jump Squats L/R
(When outdoors, give Forward Jump Squats a try instead!)
How to train:
Exercises are sorted from basic to more challenging. Start from the top. Pick the first 4 exercises that you can do slowly without pain, and maintain proper form/technique. Do 3 sets and aim for 8-12 reps.
Good to know:
Some exercises might seem easy at first, but make sure to check coaching cues before moving on. Gradually build up to more reps and switch to harder exercises while maintaining good form.
3 Bonus Exercises:
Give these 3 flexibility exercises a try. If one or more makes your back feel better, do them before the above-mentioned strength training, after a run, or in your free time. Be gentle with yourself and repeat as often as you like – even every day.
13. Cat Cow
14. Lying Figure 4 Stretch L/R
15. Supine Twist L/R