Back Pain After Running

Q I’m trying to get back into running as a 44-year-old. I used to run middle distances during high school and college, but have been off and on with my running since then. I frequently get injured, so I don’t run as much as I would like. I injured my back 10 years ago and recently started running again. I’ve been doing workouts in the gym (20 minutes on the elliptical and 20 minutes on the treadmill) but when I bumped up both by 10 minutes the other day, my back was in so much pain the next day I had to rehab for a couple days. What can I do to help my situation and my back? I love to run and don’t want to give it up. – ANTHONY O.


A You have a common problem found in people who are trying to get back to or start running; accelerating the exercise program without a proper strength and fitness base. Running requires good core strength to support the forces transmitted through your pelvis during weight bearing phases of the running gait. Once you develop a solid platform, the risk of running injury to your back and other tissues should decrease.

It is also important to advance your activity slowly to allow the body to adapt to the increased load. This is very different from my memories of cross country and track in the ’60s where we often hopped into the early season training at full steam and the survivors (or those with better pre-season preparation) were able to compete. Stepping away from this mentality can be difficult, but rewarding. Increasing from 40 minutes total exercise to 60 minutes likely pushed your body beyond the level that your muscle strength could protect. The general recommendation is to advance no more than 10 per cent per week, so at a base of 40 minutes, the increase in volume of activity should be limited to 4 minutes for a total of 44 minutes.

The first thing I would suggest is to find the cause of your back pain and correct it. Then work on your core strength to support your back and pelvis while you are running. And finally, I would look at your running style to see if you are putting extra stress on your back during your activities. Since you are running mainly for pleasure and fitness, being injury free will increase both. Moving away from a heel strike and toward a mid-foot landing might decrease or change the force patterns through your legs and reduce your injury risk (or possibly change your injury pattern). Changing foot strike and running style is a slow and gradual process and requires considerable forethought to avoid injury during the transition process. – BILL

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