Running and Lower Back Pains: When You Should Seek Help
Lower back pain is more common among runners than any other athletes. It is a result of an inadequate gait or worn-out running shoes, and it can be ignored for a long time. Runners do not recognise the first signs of back stiffness as a serious situation, and the first mild pangs of pain are treated with a topical numbing gel.
What Causes Back Pain in Runners?
In many situations, runners do not realise that their entire body takes part in the running process, not just their legs. When the foot slaps down on the track, the energy of the impact is taken by the lower leg muscles and propagated upwards. In many cases, this is not a fluid process: at the conjunction of the upper and lower parts of the body, this impact is absorbed more roughly, causing a continuous tensing of the lower back muscles.
Over time, this continuous strain applied on the lower back can cause more serious complaints – the most serious being spondylolisthesis and sciatica.
How Can You Treat the First Signs of Back Pain?
It is important to address lower back pain in the early stages and not allow it to set in and become chronic. The most common types of early interventions in the case of back pain are:
- The RICE Method
The RICE method should become a runner’s ABC in case of any type of injury. For back pain, you can replace the icing with moist heat treatment during the first 72 hours, and focus a lot on resting and allowing your lower back muscles to relax. During this initial type of treatment, you can also take NSAIDs or over-the-counter pain medication (such as Paracetamol).
Specialised relaxation massage (the Swedish method) applied by a licensed professional can be of great help to remove tension from the back muscles, and improve flexibility and blood flow to the area.
Your physical therapist can recommend a series of stretching exercises which will alleviate pain and tension, and release your tight muscles.
If your back pain persists after two weeks of applying these treatment procedures, you should consult a doctor before you develop one of the conditions we specified earlier in this article and which we will discuss now more in depth.
This is a condition where you feel numbness and a tingling sensation down one of the legs. In the more advanced phase, called the foot drop, you are unable to put any weight on the leg and support yourself.
Sciatica can be the result of a herniated disc – the disk situated in the lumbar region, which ensures the mobility of the spine when we bend forward and back. If this disc slips from its natural position, it can bulge out and press on a nerve. In the most advanced forms, this condition requires surgery, which may prevent you from running again.
Known as “the spondy” among doctors and patients, this condition occurs when two vertebrae slip one over the other, causing your spine to become unstable. This is not directly caused by running, because there should be a pre-existing structural problem in the spine morphology. However, running is known to be one of the factors which favour the worsening of this condition.
These two conditions can be disguised for a long time as the type of lower back pain which runners tend to ignore. This is why you should always react to the first signs, get an appointment with your doctor and determine whether it is just a temporary strain, or whether it could be something more serious.