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Is Low Back Pain Wrecking Your Running Mojo?

By Joelle Wisler, MSPT | April 9, 2018
Is Low Back Pain Wrecking Your Running Mojo?

We all run for different reasons. Personally, I run to keep my mental health in check and to and to stop my butt from jiggling too much.. I’m not sure if either of those things are working, but I still wake up way early most days to meet my friends for a morning run. We end up jogging through the forest and talking about life—our own personal therapy time.

If the running gene is inside of you too—if it calls to you, or if your skin itches when you haven’t laced up your sneakers in a few days—then low back pain can really throw off your mojo. For competitive runners, it can be even more frustrating.

Plus, low back pain can be confusing—it comes and goes without warning, and the symptoms can be in more than just your back. You may be running along thinking everything is fine when suddenly there’s a pain in your leg. On the other hand, low back pain can also be so consistent it feels like you’re on a schedule. So what can you do?

When you discover that your back is hurting, remember this: don’t freak out. Most people get low back pain at some point in their lives, and worrying only makes the pain seem worse than it is. Your back hurts for a reason, and there are plenty of ways to fix it and start running again. The first step to fixing your low back pain is to understand it—when you know why it hurts, you’ll know what to do about it.

Causes of Low Back Pain

Running itself may not be the cause of your back pain. It could be:

1. Muscle Spasms

Your back could be hurting because of a muscle spasm. Muscle spasms happen when a muscle contracts and cannot relax. Did you sleep funky last night? Could your posture be better? Did you do something weird while lifting weights? Muscle spasms can happen at any time to any person and can be the result of several factors, ranging from fatigue or poor stretching to dehydration or electrolyte imbalances.

2. Sciatica

Sciatica could also be the culprit. Sciatica is pain of the sciatic nerve, which runs down the back of your leg. This pain is most often the result of a lumbar disk that is pushing on a nerve. It can also be caused from tightness in a muscle in your butt called the piriformis.

3. Muscle Imbalances

You could have some muscle imbalances—stronger hamstrings and quads can make some of your other muscles (like your glutes or hip flexors) weak and ineffective. This imbalance can pull your pelvis out of whack and ultimately make your back angry and sore.

4. Chronic Low Back Pain

You could be experiencing chronic low back pain—or back pain that just doesn’t go away. It’s dull, it’s achy and it’s frustrating. Though there’s no comprehensive fix, chronic back pain can be managed with the right interventions.

5. Discogenic Pain

Discogenic pain comes from a damaged disc in your vertebrae. Did you recently help a friend move and try to be the hero carrying the couch? Or did you simply bend over to tie your shoe and then couldn’t stand up again? When your disc tears or cracks under extra pressure, the disc pushes out onto the nerves in your back, which can cause inflammation and low back pain.

6. Facet Joint Pain

There is also a complex-sounding type of low back pain called facet joint pain. Facet joints are attached to your spine and give your back the flexibility to bend, twist and stretch out. When you wear down the discs in your spine, added pressure is placed on these facet joints. Soon, the facet joints wear way. If it gets bad enough, your vertebral bones can start rubbing together and irritating your nerves. Either way, you’re experiencing low back pain.

Relief for Low Back Pain

After you’ve found the cause of your low back pain, you can work on finding relief. Topical pain relievers (ones you apply directly to your skin) can be a great place to start. These pain relievers are fast-acting, which means they ease your pain right away and help you get through your day and back on your feet.

Mar 15, 2018 2:39:05 AM1. Freeze the Pain with Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy, or pain relief through cold therapy, is traditionally done with ice—but ice isn’t the only form of cryotherapy. Topical pain relief gels, sprays and creams can also provide the benefits of cryotherapy, no leaky ice bag required. When you’re looking for a topical pain reliever, look for one that’s supported by research and is recommended by healthcare professionals, like Biofreeze® Pain Reliever. It’s thought to work through the Gate Control Theory, essentially blocking pain signals from reaching the brain through a cooling sensation on the skin.

Unlike ice, you can take Biofreeze anywhere (it’s not like dragging around a bag of peas while you go grocery shopping is super convenient). Plus, Biofreeze has all the benefits of ice without the negative drawbacks like stiffness and skin irritation.

2. Change the Temperature with Hot/Cold Pack

You can also use a hot/cold pack to start relieving your low back pain. TheraPearl® hot/cold packs can be heated up or cooled down according to your needs! Cold therapy should be used on areas that are swollen or bruised, usually right after a strain or injury or when you’re in post-workout mode.

But heat therapy can also be helpful. Heat therapy should be used on tight or stiff muscles, usually after the first 24-48 hours of an injury and on muscles or joints affected by chronic pain or arthritis. Heat therapy can also be useful to stimulate blood flow before you head out for a run.

3. Get Xact Support with Kinesiology Tape

You’ve seen kinesiology tape on the pros, but have you tried it at home? It has been shown to be effective in reducing generalized low back pain—so it's one more thing you can use to give your back the support it needs. Kinesiology tape works to encourage the body’s natural healing process by giving your muscles and joints support. The different ways you tape your pain points depend on where the pain is at—each body part gets a taping pattern to provide the most benefit (and they all look really cool too!).

Studies have shown that using kinesiology tape can reduce pain, as well as improve your trunk range of motion (think: bending your back or touching your toes) after just two weeks of application. This is important for runners because the tape doesn’t restrict your range of motion, can be applied at home and provides pain relief at the same time.

TheraBand® Kinesiology Tape with XactStretch™ gives you this support and the ability to be more accurate with your application. This kinesiology tape has indicators on it, allowing you to use the right (or Xact) amount of stretch you need every time. And you can get extra pain relief by using spray Biofreeze after applying kinesiology tape—just tape, spray and feel the relief.

There are many ways that you can tape your back at home to help ease low back pain. Follow these steps when applying kinesiology tape (you may need a friend for this!):

  1. First, make sure the area you are going to tape is clean and dry.
  2. Cut two I-strips. Remove the backing on one strip (making sure you don’t touch the adhesive), leaving a 1-2 inch base.
  3. Have your assistant apply the base of the tape without any tension to the lower back muscles on either side of your spine, and remove the rest of the backing.
  4. Bend slightly forward and have your assistant apply the tape with 25-50% tension.
  5. They’ll apply the other anchor without tension.
  6. Repeat this process with the second strip.
Gently rub the entire taping to activate the adhesive. (This is important, because if the tape doesn’t stick to you and stay stuck, it doesn’t help relieve your pain!)


4. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

When you start to have lower back pain, two of the main culprits are usually muscle imbalance and weakness—so, strengthening your muscles is a good place to start. And since I’m a physical therapist, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t talk about exercise. Exercises have been shown over and over and over again to help with low back pain.

Check out the exercises below, and start resolving that low back pain today.

Work that Upper Back

Often, when you’re suffering from low back pain, your thoracic spine (upper back) has decreased mobility, which leads to your lumbar spine (lower back) trying to overcompensate.

The prayer stretch is a great way to improve the mobility in your upper back.

Prayer Stretch
  1. Kneel on a mat, then sit back onto your heels.
  2. Lower your core and upper body to the floor, stretching your arms out in front of you.
  3. Widen your knees and keep your hips as close to your heels as possible.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds or longer, then return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat.

Up the Difficulty

The TheraBand CLX resistance band is another great tool to add to your exercise routine.

The CLX is a versatile, easy-to-use resistance band that lets you add more to your workout. The CLX loops give you multiple, unique grip options to comfortably enhance any rehab or training program. Plus, it’s lightweight and portable, so you can do these exercises at-home or on-the-go.

Try the following CLX-inspired exercise to target your upper back:

CLX Cross Hip Abduction
  1. Stand with your feet inside the middle loops, separated by one loop.
  2. Cross the CLX behind your knees and grab each end of the CLX in opposite hands.
  3. With your feet hip-width apart, pull the CLX around the outside of the hips.
  4. Keeping your upper body still and centered, bend your knees slightly.
  5. As you rise, kick one leg straight out to the side. Bring your foot back to the ground, bending your knees slightly. Repeat with your opposite leg.
  6. Repeat.

Strengthen Your Core

Everyone talks about the all-important core, and that’s for a reason. A recent study showed that focusing on lower limb exercises can improve function, especially in runners. And one of the most simple things you can do to engage your core is to simply stand on one leg. Sounds easy, right?

Standing on one leg helps you to re-engage your pelvic muscles so your body can handle all the forces being thrown at it. A single leg stance can also help you do the same thing with your ankle—that is, balance your whole body from your ankle up to your core. This exercise forces your body to stabilize at your hips, pelvis and core:

Single Leg Stance
  1. Stand on one leg with your arms at your sides.
  2. You can progress this exercise by closing your eyes while standing on one foot.
  3. Work your way up from a solid surface to a stability trainer.
  4. If you need a further challenge, pass a weighted ball around your body as you stand on one leg.

People with LBP often have weakness in their gluteus maximus as well. These exercises help engage that muscle too:

CLX Fire Hydrant
  1. Start on all fours, placing the ends of the CLX on each of your feet.
  2. Place the band between your legs and hold the middle of the band in each hand.
  3. On your forearms and knees, lift up one knee 90 degrees to the side, and kick.
  4. Repeat, then repeat on opposite leg.

You can begin the Running Man exercise once you have progressed through all of the dynamic single leg stance exercises. This is a more advanced core stabilization/glute strengthening exercise that simulates a run.

Running Man
  1. Start as if you were about to run forward, with your right knee up and your left arm up and bent at 90 degrees.
  2. As you extend your right leg back, squat down slightly on your left leg.
  3. Bring your right leg and left arm back into the starting position and repeat.
  4. Continue and repeat this motion on your opposite side.

CLX Balanced Running Man
  1. Place each leg in the center loops of the CLX above your knees, then put the end loops of the band around your wrists.
  2. Jog in place, pausing every three steps to alternate a paused hold, testing balance.


Find a Healthcare Pro

If you need further guidance, look for a healthcare professional in your area. The Professional Finder is a useful system that can help you find a professional for your specific needs. For a detailed search by body part or objective (or even various healthcare professional types), enter your zip code and click “Continue.”

Don’t Give Up Hope

Low back pain can really be a bummer, especially when it keeps you from doing the thing you love. But don’t give up hope—know that low back pain is common among runners and sometimes it comes with the territory. With the right plan and tools though, you can have instant pain relief at your fingertips. Good luck out there, runners—I have a feeling you’ll be back on your feet soon.

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