Lower Back Pain


Experience From - Norm Yarger , Andy Williams , George Beinhorn , Paul , Sarah Tynes , Charles Steele ,

Norm Yarger

Tom Wrote:

"I have been increasing mileage and doing more long, hilly trail runs than usual. Everything (legs, cardiovascular system, mind) is getting stronger and more fit, except my lower back, which seems to be getting weaker. Is this just normal "growing pains"? On long runs it's really aggravating, especially on the down hills where gravity is no friend of my back.

It starts out just feeling tired, then that feeling gives way to a dull ache, which after two hours or so becomes quite uncomfortable. I fear that if it keeps getting worse, I won't be able to continue doing the distances I need to be doing this spring. I'm planning to do the Hinte-Anderson Trail 50K this Saturday, so we'll see what happens (I will finish, I will finish, I will...)

I have to ask you ultra-folks because, man, no one else understands (the non-runners in my life would [sensibly?] tell me to stop running!). So, does anyone have suggestions on dealing with lower back pain in combination with running a lot? Work through the discomfort or take time off? Wonder drugs? Stretching exercises to strengthen the lower back? The thought of doing dead lifts just makes me cringe in anticipation. Thanks."

I would suggest exercises to strengthen the abs. Lots of crunches (sit-ups). There are also some back stretches that can help when the back is sore, but the abs support the back and can help a lot.

Andy Williams

Tom's problem seems common -- some advice that was given to me helped very much: do crunches (sit-ups where you don't sit all the way up but lift 45 to 60 degrees up from horizontal.

When I used to do sit-ups there would sometimes be a "click" or "pop" in my right hip. Now that I don"t come up to the full sit up position the work on the abs is much greater, and there is no more hip problem. I was concerned that it was mentioned that I was trashing my lower back, can't see how it is because it just feels so much better when I stay in the routine and do them regularly. I noticed that I didn't mention my knees are always bent, and depending on how close my feet are placed toward my bottom as to what part of the abs I'm working. (Caught that in your post.)

What happens in my opinion is that you work a balance between your back and abdomen muscles. Rich Shick or someone else on this list with more knowledge can correct me if I am wrong, but doing 20 to 40 reps a day ended my back problems. Only doesn't work when my laziness causes a layoff for a while.

George Beinhorn

My back has been kind of iffy, and I've learned to deal with it. Here's what's worked for me:

  1. First, stretching "does" help quite a lot. You "must never" stretch to the point of pain, however.

  2. Sometimes "back pain" can actually be pain in the kidneys or bladder; but that's usually accompanied by blood or brown stuff in urine, a definite danger sign that should be taken seriously.

  3. I formerly had sciatic pain after 30 miles in an ultra. After I began working out at the gym, that problem disappeared "completely". However, I had a very specific kind of sciatica: piriformis sciatica.

  4. I feel that strengthening abdominal and gluteus muscles (butt) helps my running form tremendously. I find it much easier to run balanced over my hips, which feels effortless. This also helps protect my back, because I'm not jarring so much.

Crunches are fine if you do them cautiously. I can't do them at all, as they irritate my back pain. Instead, I do hanging knee lifts. I.e., I hang with my elbows on two parallel bars and lift my knees toward my chest. I stretch immediately afterwards.

Above all, avoid straight leg raisers, which will put your back on the ash heap.


I read in an anatomy book that tight hamstrings can cause back pain. The hams are connected to the pelvis as well as upper and lower leg bones. If they are tight, they can distort the carriage of the pelvis by rotating it down and back, thereby affecting the curve of the spine. If only one ham is tight, it's worse because now the pelvis is being twisted laterally as well. Just a thought.

Sarah Tynes

Norm suggests ab strengthening exercises to reduce low back trouble. I just wanted to second that emotion! I've heard for years that was the way to go, but I'm extremely lazy about doing tummy work. A 30 mile run? Sure. Crunches?

Forget it! So I've just tolerated my low back trouble, and spent regular time on the floor =:-O But I've begun using the workout facility at my apartment complex, and they have one of those skeleton thingamajigs where you hang by your arms and lift your legs. I've been doing 3 set of 10-15, 2-4 times per week, and my back trouble has miraculously disappeared! All when I thought it would get worse because I was getting ready for my first ultra (MS Trail 50K). But it's gone! Generally, when I go out for my evening run, I simply run back to the gym when I'm finished and do my tummy stuff! by the way, I've tried crunches before and they didn't help like this! Apparently crunches work the upper abs, but we need to work the lower abs that are directly opposite the lower back. So, that's my $.02 :-)

Charles Steele

In my experience, the key to getting rid of back problems is to strengthen the back muscles, and to keep the back muscles stretched and spine flexible.

I used to have severe chronic back pain; for five years could not lie on my back for more than a few minutes without real trouble. I believe that my abs were in good shape, as I was doing a fair number of situps. One day a friend suggested I try yoga and loaned me a book; I did the routine regularly and noticed immediate improvement; within two months the problem was essentially gone. I experimented a bit with non-yoga back exercises and am convinced that in my case the problem was weak back muscles that weren't capable of supporting my weight properly. I don't do the yoga routine any more, but so long as I keep my back in shape I am fine. I work at this fairly hard; when I slack off (for a few months) some of the old discomfort starts to creep back.

Strengthening consists of various exercises, with or without weights, which involve contracting the back muscles (e.g. dead lifts, or hyperextension on the roman chair). (If your back is weak, start with VERY easy exercises here.)

Stretching involves, uh, what's the word, well, bending the opposite way from when you are contracting the back muscles, plus stretches which twist the torso longitudinally.

Take the back pain seriously; if it is like mine, it won't go away on its own.