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Is Running Good for Your Back?

Is Running Good for your Back? | Back Pain after RunningWhile most people with back pain realize that exercise can help, they may question is running good for your back? A common theory is that the strain on your spine during running can cause back pain. However, a recent article by the New York Times reviews a study that found running may be good for your lower back.

Back Pain After Running

Some people experience back pain after running. This can be caused by1,2:

  • Skeletal Structure: In general we all have the same bones in our bodies. However, small differences in the size and position of bones in our feet and legs can affect the stresses running puts on our spine.
  • Core Strength: A body that is used to regular exercise will handle the jarring of running differently than a body that is more sedentary.
  • Foot Support: Most people wouldn’t head out for a run in flip-flops. While that’s a severe example, the style and structure of your footwear can have a great effect on your body’s response to running.
  • Body Posture: Do you sit all day in front of a computer screen? This posture, along with your posture while running can change the way your body deals with the strain of running.

Is Running Good for your Back?

Now that we’ve seen a few reasons why our running may led to back pain, let’s take a look at this recent study that attempts to answer the question: “Is Running Good For your Back?”.

Background – Spinal Anatomy and Discs

Looking at the various back pain diagnoses we can see that many of them involve the discs located between our spine’s bones (vertebrae). These intervertebral discs can be seen in this overview of the spinal anatomy.

Changes in the intervertebral discs can be caused by body structure, lifestyle or simply age. A reduction in the size of these discs can lead to vertebrae rubbing against one another or against a nerve in the spinal column. Either scenario will most likely result in back pain.

In general, larger discs (or those with more fluid in them) cushion the bones in our spinal cord better and minimize the pressures that can lead to back pain.

Running’s Effect on the Intervertebral Discs

The recent study by Belavy, et al suggests that the discs between the vertebrae in our spine may increase in size and fluidity as a result of regular low impact running.

According to the study, this positive effect was first observed in mice, before and after running on treadmills.

To evaluate if the effect could be seen on humans, the researchers studied the disc size and liquidity in three groups of people: those who didn’t run, those who ran moderate distances and those who ran long distances. In general, they found that both groups of runners had larger discs (with more of the cushioning fluid contained in discs) than those people who did not run.

According to their evaluation, there wasn’t any statistical difference between those who ran moderate distances and those who ran long distances.

In addition, they analyzed the speed of the various runners and found that only a fast walk to steady jog was needed to observe an improved disc structure.

In Summary

There are several reasons running can lead to back pain. Most of us realize the positive effect exercise can have on our body and back health. There may now be reason to believe that a moderate running regimen can have a positive effect on our spine’s health, thereby reducing back pain. This is an exciting new study which will hopefully lead to further research to understand the impact of running on the spine.

References:

  1. Livestrong
  2. Active
  3. Scientific Reports
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery