3 Ways to Combat Low Back Pain in Runners

By Ryan Domeyer PT, DPT, CMPT for Athletico Physical Therapy

For runners, the compressive load during foot strike is between 2.7-5.7x body weight,low back pain in runners which can contribute to back pain. That said, there is no consensus on whether running is a risk factor for developing low back pain, with some research  suggesting a weak association of low back pain with elite competitive runners. However, since there is a high prevalence of low back pain in daily activities, it is not uncommon for runners to experience pain in the lumbar spine (lower back) during training. Here are three ways to help combat low back pain in runners.

1. Neutral Spine Position

The spine has three natural curves that allow the body to stay erect and absorb force during locomotion. While running, it is common to see an excessive arch or a rounded lower back. Both of these compensations can lead to increased stress on spinal tissues and possible pain. Prior to running, runners can use a mirror to determine if their low back is too arched, too flat or in a neutral position. Runners can also request an appointment at Athletico for a video gait analysis. At the end of the analysis, the patient will receive individualized comments and images of their running gait, along with tips, exercises and critiques to help maximize running performance.

2. Improve Core Strength

One way the spine is protected is by having large muscles groups to help maintain the neutral spine position. The “core” muscles include the abdominal muscles as well as the back and leg muscles. For more information about the core, read Athletico’s “What is the Core of My Body?

Although the traditional exercise for improving core strength is sit ups, there are other alternatives that improve strength without stressing the spine. Planks and supermans, for example, are both good exercise options because they help to improve strength while maintaining the neutral spine when performed correctly.

3. Improve Hip Strength

The gluteal muscles are the largest muscles in the body and are commonly underutilized due to the high prevalence of sitting during daily activities. The gluteal muscles work to propel the body forward and also protect the low back from stress. When the gluteal muscles are weak, more stress can be forced on the low back, which can potentially lead to pain. The easiest way to improve strength of the gluteal muscles is with bodyweight exercises like bridges, planks, side planks, bird dogs and hip abduction raises.

Taking the Next Step

If you are a runner that is experiencing back pain, consider taking the next step by scheduling a comprehensive examination with a physical therapist. Doing so will give you specific direction to help you run without back pain

Schedule a Complimentary Injury Screen



A bulging disc and broken bone in his back kept Brent from participating in Boy Scouts of America events with his son, one of their favorite ways to spend time together.

The pain in his back and leg became so severe he could not stand or walk for longer than 10 – 20 minutes at a time. The constant pain took a toll on his life and it was difficult for Brent to serve as an assistant scoutmaster with his son’s Boy Scout troop. To ease his debilitating pain, Brent underwent a posterior lumbar spinal fusion. Doctors used AlloPac® cortical/cancellous chips in the procedure.

“I could tell as soon as I was able to get up and around that the surgery was successful because my pain was gone,” he said.

After Brent’s recovery, he has returned to all of the activities his injury prevented him from doing.

“The transplant has completely changed my daily life,” said Brent. “I am able to walk and stand for long lengths of time without pain. I have been able to go on campouts, extended summer camps and hikes that before I would never have been able to do because of the pain.” Brent is thankful for the donated bone that played a crucial role in his surgery and has helped him recover.

“I am grateful that someone was thoughtful enough to donate tissue so someone like me could have a chance to be able to do the things I thought I never would.”

When asked what he would say to his donor, if he could, Brent appreciates the gift of donation. “I would say thank you for being willing to donate and know that I am so very thankful to have had the chance to receive the donation that changed my way of life. Your unselfishness is overwhelming.”

MOR Physicians Help Patient Get Back to Active Lifestyle

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Rob Satek, 46, a resident of Michigan and Florida, refers to himself as a ‘hard sell’ when it comes to doctors. “I like to do things my way, even when it comes to my medical care,” he explains.

However, three orthopedic surgeries in 14 months changed his mind.

Satek, who has been snowmobiling, riding motorcycles and racing motocross and speed boats for most of his life, recently found himself in so much back pain that he decided it was time to sell his bikes and boats. He was forced to use a wheelchair in some cases just to get around. “No one thinks about the wear and tear on the body when you’re doing those sports,” he explained. “Especially not me.”

Reluctantly, at the suggestion of a friend, Satek visited Frank Phillips, MD, a minimally invasive spine expert at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR). After imaging, a thorough exam and extensive conversation with Satek, Dr. Phillips recommended a spinal fusion to relieve his pain. Satek agreed, underwent the L5 to S1 fusion surgery and was thrilled to be walking again without back pain a week after surgery. “I’m not an emotional guy, but one of my most emotional moments was when I realized that Dr. Phillips had fixed my back,” he says.

During a follow up appointment, Dr. Phillips noticed something unusual about Satek’s shoulder and asked him how long it had been hurting. “I couldn’t believe it,” Satek says. “I never mentioned my shoulder to him, but he could tell it was bothering me. I actually hadn’t been able to pull the starter on my snowmobile for some time.”

That same day, Dr. Phillips introduced Satek to MOR partner, Dr. Nikhil Verma, a sports medicine surgeon who diagnosed Satek with a torn rotator cuff and recommended surgery to relieve his pain. Once again, Satek agreed and not long after surgery, he was back in the gym. “I really like the way these doctors collaborated about my care,” Satek says. “They really understand the human body and how all of its parts work together.”

One year later, Satek begain experiencing pain again, this time in his foot. He was having trouble walking several blocks, so he called his friends at MOR once again. He met Dr. Kamran Hamid, a foot and ankle specialist, who diagnosed him with a bone spur and recommended surgery to remove it. He agreed, but warned Dr. Hamid that he had a vacation planned post-surgery that he didn’t want to miss. Three weeks after surgery, Satek left for Florida and Dr. Hamid agreed to monitor his care unconventionally. “I sent Dr. Hamid regular texts with photos and updates about my foot,” he explains. “I described what was going on and he replied with any modifications that he felt were necessary.”

Today, Satek is back to riding snowmobiles, motorcycles and enjoying an active lifestyle without any pain.

“I’m not a professional athlete but I run my life like one,” he explains. “I like that the MOR doctors treat the pros. If they can get those guys back into the game, they are the only ones I want to get me back to my active life.”


Dynamic Stretching – Series II Videos on Proper Form

This is the second of 3 series on Dynamic Stretch Videos Created by Emily Haglage, PT, DPT from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush

Research seems to lean towards dynamic stretching as the most beneficial form of stretching prior to any type of exercise or sport routine. In fact, most studies found that it was beneficial to perform dynamic stretching in order to reverse negative effects of static stretching. One researcher group discovered, “ Athletes in sports requiring [leg] power should use dynamic stretching techniques in warm-up to enhance flexibility while improving performance”.

Read more: To Stretch or Not To Stretch: Should you waste your time? and Dynamic Stretching – Series I Videos on Proper Form.

Dynamic Stretch 4: Hip Rotator stretches– use this exercise to open up your hips to allow for more movement as well as decreased risk of hip and low back strain.

Dynamic Stretch 5: Hip Rotator stretches– use this exercise to open up your hips to allow for more movement as well as decreased risk of hip and low back strain.

Dynamic Stretch 6: Hip Rotator stretches– use this exercise to open up your hips to allow for more movement as well as decreased risk of hip and low back strain.

Emily_Haglage.jpgEmily Haglage is a graduate of Saint Louis University where she received her bachelor’s of science degree in exercise science and doctorate in physical therapy. She treats a variety of orthopedic injuries with special interest in knee injuries including patellofemoral pain, meniscus injuries, ligamentous injuries, arthritis and post-operative total knee replacements. She enjoys working closely with athletes by performing Functional Sports Assessments (FSAs) which give physicians more assurance that their patients are safe to return to sports such as basketball, football, soccer, tennis and hockey.