How To Fix Your Running Back Injury

Low back pain…it’s the worst. Most runners experience it at some point or another. You picked something heavy up incorrectly, you spend 8 hours of your day in a chair, or maybe it’s the effect of some issues in your running form. Bottom line, you don’t have to live with lower back pain when running. Strength training, correcting poor posture, and working on mobility are all ways to get back to pain-free running. Read on to understand how weak and tight muscles contribute to your pain and follow our tips to help shore up those trouble areas. 

Back Pain For Runners

It’s worth mentioning that running injuries don’t usually come out of nowhere. If you’re experiencing lower back pain while running, chances are you’ve got some gaps in your training. Perhaps you’ve had less time lately for all your workouts so you’ve just been running and have skipped any cross-training. Or maybe after a run you just jump in the car and head home, skipping your cooldown and post-run mobility. 

Don’t get down on yourself. It’s a simple process to shore up those gaps with a little strength and mobility work. With one of our favorite core exercises and a dynamic mobility drill you’ll have two go-to moves that are easy to complete, whether at the trailhead, park, or your living room.  

Please remember that we’re online coaches, not online doctors. If you’re experiencing intense back pain, nerve pain such as sciatica,, or other symptoms beyond those described in this article, please seek out medical advice or physical therapy for qualified help.

A Neutral Spine Reduces Risk Of Back Pain & Injury

One common culprit of a running back injury is weakness through the core muscles, more specifically the deep stabilizer muscles. These muscles are responsible for keeping us upright and balanced with minimal wobble side-to-side or back-and-forth, and have attachment points throughout the spine and pelvis. 

A lot of us tend to “default” to an overextended, mildly arched low back, which causes the core to turn off, leaving the low spine to absorb each step of impact as you run. Lessening this arch and finding a more neutral spine position is critical if you’re going to keep running long term and injury-free. 

Test Your Glute Engagement

To find that neutral spine position, start with your glutes. 

  • Stand as you normally would, feet hip or shoulder-width apart.
  • Then squeeze your butt to fire your glutes. You should immediately feel your pelvis shift slightly forward.
  • You’ll probably also feel your core muscles engage, even if you aren’t actively trying to flex them. 

Check out our article on hip posture and neutral pelvis to learn even more.

As you work through the following movements, keep the sensation of a neutral pelvis and engaged glutes in mind. That posture will help you get the most of the two drills, which will, in turn, improve your running.

Hollow Hold For Core Strength

This drill will put another variation on the butt squeeze test. The purpose of this drill is to turn on those deep abdominal muscles, which support and protect your spine from defaulting to a dangerous position. Additionally, the extra help from your core will take some of the load off the lower back muscles, which, if left to absorb the impact of running on its own, can easily lead to repetitive stress and injury.

running back injury

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground.
  • Lift your legs up to create a “table top” position, both legs bent at a 90 degree angle,
  • Knees should be directly over the hips and your ead is resting on the ground.
  • The low back should be pressed securely into the ground. I shouldn’t be able to fit my hand under your low back…if I were there 🙂

Is this feeling stable?

Great, let’s look at a few ways to take it up a notch:

lower back pain when running

  • Peel the head and shoulders off the ground, keeping arms into your sides but lifted 2 inches off the ground, palms up.
  • You can raise the arms above your hips, perpendicular to the ground.
  • Try extending one leg, then both legs.
  • Play with variations of just legs extended, or one arm and opposite leg, etc.
  • Notice how the different variations affect the demand on your core, just as when you change position while running.

lower back pain after running

The only rule is that your low back MUST, MUST, MUST stay glued to the ground! This will keep your lower back safe and stable by avoiding hyperextension and compression in the spine. 

  • Start with holding your chosen position for 10 seconds, for 6 rounds total. Increase time as needed.

If you’re looking for even more core movements, here are two more exercises guaranteed to put you to work.

Dynamic Movement For Hip Mobility

The other part of the puzzle is your hips! No doubt they are tight and putting extra pressure and strain on your spine. It’s pretty common these days that when you aren’t running or working out, you’re sitting. Sitting in your car, at your desk, on your couch…hey, us, too sometimes. 

Let’s think about what that means.

Since your hip flexors, the muscles at the front of your hips, spend most of their day in a shortened position, they default to that position even when standing. When you go for a run and are in an upright, lengthened out position, the low back feels overridden and yanked by them. The result: your low back ends up working extra hard to counteract the pull from the front of the hips.

Enter your chronic low back pain and thus, your running back injury.

So, let’s work on your hip mobility up by targeting the hip flexors. Instead of a static stretch where you just hold a position without moving, this is a dynamic mobility drill. Running requires movement through the hips, not a static position. So we’ll replicate that movement here with some rotation and reaching. 

running lower back pain

  • Start by standing with a neutral pelvis as you practiced in the butt squeeze test
  • From here just start finding some rotations side to side, twisting the upper body from the lower body.
  • You should start feeling a light stretch through the front of the hips.
  • Continue rotating the upper body, side to side. 
  • From here go ahead and put your right leg back behind you, finding a shallow lunge position.

Here are a few ways to increase the demand:

back pain after running

  • Extend the arms to increase the range of motion, emphasizing the twist towards the right leg.
  • Try holding one arm higher and the other lower to move contralateral (opposite arm with opposite leg)
  • Find an increasingly larger range of twist over your left side, trying to reach that right glute of the extended back leg, then that hamstring, then the knee, then the ankle…you get the idea.

Ultimately, you want to create a dynamic movement that counteracts the seated position we spend so much time in.

  • Accumulate up to 30 twists per side, starting from a small range of motion and increasing from there.

Including these two exercises in your running training will definitely help in both rehabbing AND preventing running back injury!

For even more training, be sure to download our mobile app for interactive workouts, full training plans, and a lively community of fellow TRE runners.