Slow it down: Is running bad for your back?

Everyone has bad days. You know, the ones that leave you ready to punch a wall when you get home. It’s those days when the pavement sings your name, beckoning you to travel along its seemingly endless path. So, you run – faster and faster until the day’s problems and aggressions slowly blur into the background.

Running is how you maintain your sanity.

Although running is good for your emotional health and is a great way to burn some calories, the activity can strain your spine. Avid runners may notice the presence of pain in their lower back as they age – mostly because running is rough on the joints. Running jars the spine, and an incorrect running posture may contribute to back pain over the course of several years.

As you run, incorporate these checks and balances into your routine to avoid a serious back injury down the road.

Watch your running pattern. An asymmetrical running pattern could lend to back pain down the road. If you notice that you tend to land harder on one side than the other, you probably have an asymmetrical running pattern. In order to avoid chronic back pain in the future, you should alter your stride. To do this, ditch the headphones and listen to your gait. Engage your core muscles and pelvis to create a more even stride.

Check your foot placement. Ask yourself: are you a rear-foot or fore-foot runner? If you are a rear-foot runner, the main force of your stride will be exerted on your heel. A fore-foot runner will strike heavy on the front of the foot, a technique made popular by barefoot running. Some studies suggest that one style is better than the other, while others claim there is no difference. Just make sure that you are wearing the correct footwear for your style of running.

Study your stride. Uneven strides and arm swinging are main causes of back pain in runners. An uneven stride and exuberant arm swinging can place unneeded pressure on your spine, causing low back pain. To avoid back pain, strive to keep your stride even and keep your arms close to your body.

Don’t forget to stretch. Runners often forget to stretch, which is the leading cause of back pain for those who run. It is important to keep your muscles limber throughout your run. Stretching helps to improve your muscle coordination and increase your range of motion. Limber muscles are less likely to be injured from overuse, too.

Strengthen your core. Although running is an excellent form of exercise, many runners neglect their core muscles. Sure, they can run a 7-minute mile, but how many sit-ups can they do? Unless you actively work out your abdominal muscles, you will have a weak core. They best way to stave off a back injury is to keep your core strong. Consider incorporating some Pilates or yoga into your routine.

As you gear up for your next run, maybe you will consider a nice, brisk walk instead. Studies suggest that walking at a fast pace is just as effective as running. A brisk walk is also better for your joints and overall spine health. If you have some extra time, opt for a walk rather than a run. In the end, your back may stay healthy longer.

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