A common complaint among many runners is lower back pain. Almost 60 million people in the United States have participated in some form of running, jogging, or trail running, representing almost 19% of the US population. Running as a form of exercise and sport continues to gain in popularity, offering major health benefits such as weight loss, increased fitness, and diminished risk of illness. However, despite the benefits, running can also cause spine injuries that result in lower back pain.
What Causes Lower Back Pain in Runners?
Two of the most common injuries to the spine suffered by runners are cervical disc herniation and degenerative disc disease.
- Cervical Disc Herniation occurs when one of the discs between the spinal bones herniates or moves out of place. Running can be strenuous on the spine and in some cases may contribute to disc herniation. Most of the time, this issue will heal on its own. If the condition worsens or does not seem to improve after a period of rest and/or light activity, then it may be time to have a scan done to see if you need to consult a neurosurgeon.
- Degenerative Disc Disease can occur when the spinal discs lose some of their cushioning ability over time. This disease can sometimes occur alongside spondylolisthesis, which is when two or more vertebrae slip against one another. Both of these ailments are forms of spinal instability and may (or may not) spell the end of a person’s running career, depending on the doctor’s recommendation.
How Can Runners Treat Lower Back Pain?
Similar to many other ailments of the spine, the specific treatment chosen will depend on the specific symptoms being experienced and the expert opinion of a doctor. Some common treatment options include:
- Rest – For the majority of runners who experience lower back pain, a simple regimen of rest and light exercise can usually lead to improvement. After this period of rest and spinal repair, a person will more than likely be able to return to running.
- Biomechanical Analysis – A trained running coach or exercise physiologist can evaluate a person’s running mechanics, taking into account such things as form, heel strike, and pronation. They may be able to make recommendations such as the purchase of specialized shoes or training to un-learn bad habits and learn new ones. Sometimes, this can result in the reduction or elimination of lower back pain.
- Neurosurgery – In cases where the level of injury is more severe, a doctor may recommend neurosurgery. This surgery can take many forms depending on the specific injury. After you have had your scans, your doctor may recommend you see a neurosurgeon for surgical treatment options.
While running can be extremely beneficial for long-term mental and physical health, it’s important to listen to your body and rest when it’s needed. If your pain does not dissipate after rest or worsens, contact your physician to request a scan. Your physician will be able to tell you if you need to go and see a neurosurgeon.
Get the lower back pain treatment and personalized care you deserve by speaking with the board-certified neurosurgeons at Hudson Valley Brain & Spine Surgery.