With those New Year’s resolutions still going strong for many people, I’ve recently seen quite a few out for a brisk jog. From the countless cardiovascular and other health benefits to the endorphin “rush” many runners say they get from running, there’s no doubt that it’s great exercise. But like any other form of fitness, when not performed carefully or properly, running too can be accompanied by certain types of injuries.
When most people think of running injuries, they usually associate them with problems in the knee from repeated impact or abrasions from tripping and falling down during a race or jog. Not very many people consider the potential for back injuries when running, but you really should. Your spine supports every movement that you make. Out of all of your skeletal structures, it also suffers the most from the impact of your feet. If you want to stay fit, healthy, and active, and you want to be able to continue running throughout your lifetime, pay attention to your spine and follow these tips.
Hit the (Right) Pavement
Whether it’s concrete or paved asphalt, running on hard ground is incredibly hard on your joints and spine. Many distance runners say they feel a difference between in impact of running on cement sidewalks versus running on concrete roads. But whichever you choose, (or are stuck with depending on where you live) you’re still running on a very hard surface. In fact, some studies have shown that people who run solely on pavement may have a higher incidence of back pain from running long-term. So what do you do about it?
Vary your workout. Try to find a dirt trail to run on. Step off the path at the park and run in the grass. Running on softer surfaces like this will help in not jarring your spine with every footfall as much as running strictly on pavement can. You’ll also benefit from getting stronger legs, as the softer ground gives more and requires more energy, strength and effort to push forward on.
Don’t Ignore Your Core
Neglecting to work on your abdominal and back muscles is just as much a problem for runners as strictly running on pavement. In fact, it may be even more important than the running surface you choose. If your core muscles aren’t strong, they won’t be able to support your spine and keep your posture straight.
Whether you’re physically “fit” or not, when the abdominal muscles are weak, you’ll be running with your abdomen pushed forward, which also pulls your lower spine forward, creating an unnatural and dangerous spinal shape. This is incredibly bad for your back, especially as your feet hit the ground over and over again.
To fix the problem, you’ll need to work on your core muscles every day. Build strong abdominal and back muscles, and you’ll walk and run with better posture. Your spine will also better align when you’re seated, which will help prevent back pain while sitting in front of the computer or at a desk at work.
As far as good exercises for your core go, there are a number of styles of crunches and poses that can strengthen your abdominal muscles without adding strain to your back. For example, “Planking” is especially good for hitting all of your core muscles and strengthening your spine.
If your back hurts the day after you’ve gone on a run, don’t ignore it. Sometimes, if you’re varying your runs and working on your core enough, you may want to just give it some rest or go for a brisk walk instead. The real keys are to monitor your impact on the running surface you’ve chosen and to make sure that you have good posture and a strong core while you’re running. Paying attention to these tips can help you “go the distance” longer and stronger while sparing your spine in the process.