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Can I Go Running With Back Pain?

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 21 Apr 2010 |
Can I Go Running With Back Pain?

It’s important to keep moving with back pain, and exercise can help improve back pain, or prevent it happening again. Runners who experience back pain often want to get back to their running schedules as quickly as possible, but is it a good idea to continue this high-impact sport?

It depends. If running does not make the back pain any worse, it should be okay to (carefully) continue a running programme, with some changes (see below). If running makes the pain worse, it’s important to continue with exercise to keep the back as flexible as possible, but it would be better to switch to another, lower impact form of exercise until the pain is better. Examples include walking, swimming, cycling, yoga or stretching exercises (see also ‘Exercise for Back Pain’). Exercises that improve abdominal muscles and core strength, such as Pilates, are good for preventing future episodes of back pain.

Reducing the Impact

As running can be a high impact exercise for backs, it is a good idea to look at reducing pace and distance, and changing the running surfaces, to reduce the stress on the back while there is pain. Rather than running on tarmac or concrete, running on a treadmill will lower the impact of each stride, and has the added advantage that it is possible to stop as soon as the pain gets any worse. Running on softer surfaces such as short grass, indoor and outdoor running tracks, beaches (on firm, damp sand rather than soft, dry sand) or trails with gravel, dirt, sand, woodchip or bark surfaces, will also reduce the stress on the back. The surfaces should be level and even, without too much banking.

Because of the posture changes required, cross-country, uphill and downhill running put extra pressure on the bones and joints of the back, so it’s a good idea to avoid these while the back heals.

Warming up before running, including some stretches, may help with back pain.

Back Pain Caused By Running

For some people, running can trigger back pain. Running in old or improperly fitted shoes can cause back pain. It’s a good idea to get running shoes properly fitted at a specialist shop – take the old shoes in so that the fitter can see if there is any abnormal pattern of wear, which could problems such as feet rolling in more than they should (overpronation). Replace running shoes after running about 300 to 550 miles.

Bad posture can cause back pain while running – keep the back straight and shoulders level, shoulders and arms relaxed, and land on the middle of the foot, rather than landing hard on the toes or heels, rolling forward onto the toes.

When Not To Exercise

It’s generally okay to exercise ‘through’ mild pain, but it’s a good idea to take a break for a few days after any moderate pain. However, if pain is severe, do not continue the exercise and consult a doctor or physiotherapist to avoid doing any permanent damage.

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