With the Race for Life about to get under starter’s orders on Bournemouth’s seafront, our thoughts turn to all you dedicated runners out there. Whether you take a gentle jog with friends once or twice a week or are in full-on training mode, it’s always important to make sure you’re looking after your back.
This form of exercise puts a lot of repetitive stress on the back, so we’ve put together a list of the key things you can do to minimise the risk of damage.
Stretch the hamstrings to minimise stress across the low back. We recommend that you do this a couple of times a day, whether you’re running or not.
Keep your core muscles strong and toned
Include at least one rest day per week in workout schedules.
Make sure you regularly visit us to make sure your back is already in the correct position. This helps avoid imbalance which can cause one set of muscles to be stressed more than another and this can result in injury.
Lower back sprains and strains are more likely to occur if an adequate warm up is not done prior to running. Warm-up helps facilitate blood flow and allow the muscles time to get used to the motion of running.
A thorough warm up should include the both the core muscles (abs and lower back) and leg muscles.
Try gradually building speed. Start with a slow 1 to 2 minute walk and then slowly working into a jog and then, ultimately, the full speed of the run.
Aerobic exercises such as push-ups, jumping jacks, or using a skipping rope can help and even a few minutes of yoga can stretch the back muscles while also improving blood flow and preparing the body for exercise.
Just as it is valuable to warm up before running, cooling down can help the body transition to less-intensive physical activity. Here are some tried and tested methods to try:
- Slow the pace of a run gradually until you’re walking for 2 to 3 minutes
- A slow ride on a stationary bike
- Dynamic stretching, such as yoga
Look after your feet
Wear comfortable, supportive shoes: it’s worth investing in well-fitting, specialist running footwear. These are usually fitted by a professional to make sure they’re suited specifically for your requirements, taking into account your stride length and arch height among other aspects of the foot. Be prepared to replace your shoes around every 250 miles of wear. Observe the wear on your shoes. Unbalanced wear indicates an unbalanced back and lower limb.
It is best to allow low-mileage days to break in a new pair of shoes. Some people find a pair of shoes they particularly like and purchase several pairs that they can alternate over time.
When planning for a long run, consider using Vaseline or another skin barrier to protect the skin around the toe web spaces, toenails, and heels. This tactic is also valuable to protect the skin from water exposure if running on wet terrain or in the rain.
Choose socks that are not so tight that the toes bunch up or so loose that they slide down the heel while running and try to run on a forgiving surface if possible, such as a rubber track, and where possible, avoid running on cement.
Improve your form
Running form can minimise impact on the back and other muscle groups involved in running. Advice on running form includes:
- Keeping the chest aimed outward, with shoulders back and relaxed.
- Pumping arms only forward and backward, never across the body
- Developing a comfortable striking motion from mid-foot to toes.
- Taking shorter, faster strides rather than larger, bounding strides.
Running with improper form can dramatically increase the stress to the back and can contribute to joint injuries (hip, knee and ankle) developing over time. Try asking someone to video you running so you can take a look at your style and identify areas for improvement.
Overtraining can be detrimental to overall conditioning as well as cause overuse injuries, such as stress fractures. Try to limit yourself to running only 3 to 4 times a week and avoid increasing both time AND distance at the same time, and make increases only gradually. Do not increase daily running totals by more than 2 miles per week.
It is important that you keep aware of any back symptoms that could be exacerbated by a particular activity. If running consistently brings on back pain symptoms, make sure you come in to see us for a realignment.