Exploring and preventing back pain in runners

Exploring and preventing back pain in runners

For even some of the most dedicated cross-training runners, chronic back pain can be a real problem.

A study suggests many instances of the pain can be traced back to weakness in “deep core” muscles.

The study, from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, used motion detection technology and force-measuring floor plates to estimate muscle movements during activity. This allowed them to examine the pressure put on specific bones and joints, including simulating what happens when certain muscles are weakened or “turned off.”

Weak deep core muscles can force more superficial muscles like the abs to work harder to compensate, which can lead to faster fatigue and painful consequences, the study says.

Gina McDonald, a fitness specialist at the Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill., says the muscle group – also referred to as core or pelvic stabilizers – helps control and support the spine, so the findings made sense.

“The problem is that over time, many people lose the ability or awareness of how to activate these deep muscles,” she says. “It is easy for even elite athletes to develop back pain as a result of not training their deep core muscles.”

The imbalance can extend beyond just runners, McDonald says.

Both she and the study emphasize avoiding an excess of traditional ab exercises that require a long range of motion, such as sit-ups or back extensions, would not get the job done when it comes to the deep core.

Instead, a focus on small or static movements and isometric exercises can strengthen the area, McDonald says, particularly on unstable surfaces. Examples include:

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About the Author

Nathan Lurz
Nathan Lurz

Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.