Whether they run, jog, walk or boogie down the street, the Crescent City Classic is a bucket-list item for many New Orleanians. For some participants, training involves rolling out of bed, downing a shot and donning a banana suit. Serious runners, however, have been training for the storied foot race for months. Missing the race due to runner’s lower back pain can be any serious runner’s nightmare.
“Lower back pain and stiffness that doesn’t go away can signify a serious problem,” says K. Samer Shamieh, MD a board certified, fellowship trained minimally invasive spine surgeon.
It isn’t always easy to tell when soreness is a result of upping your weekly mileage and when it’s coming from a serious problem that needs treatment by a specialist. In today’s blog post, we discuss a few ways to differentiate between serious spinal conditions and normal soreness due to exercise (as well as ways to get stronger and prevent injuries).
Lower Back Pain Lasting Longer Than Usual
When you walk or run, your core–which consists of your abdominal, pelvic floor, diaphragm and other muscles–helps support your spinal muscles. The glutes, hamstrings and quads propel the lower body forwards. Together, these muscles prevent you from tipping forward or leaning backwards. If you have a muscular sprain or strain, it shouldn’t take long to heal–a few weeks at most. Most aches and pains from training resolve themselves with a few days’ rest and ibuprofen. Lower back pain lasting longer than a few weeks may be a sign of a more serious spinal condition.
Pain That Extends Down The Leg
If you’re having long-term trouble logging miles due to pain that extends down the leg, you may have a herniated disc or degeneration in the lower back.
“Sometimes when patients have degeneration in lower back, it can cause lateral upper leg pain that doesn’t go past the knee, that most people think is radiculopathy,” says Jeremy R. James, MD a board certified, fellowship trained minimally invasive spine surgeon.
The pain could also be caused by spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis or spinal arthritis. If you experience symptoms such as leg numbness or weakness, don’t hesitate to get evaluated by a spine care professional. These symptoms can worsen with time and shouldn’t be ignored.
Lower Back Pain Due to Repetitive Stress
Running’s long-term effects on the joints is well-documented. But all that pounding the pavement can also exacerbate spine issues like spondylolisthesis (when one vertebral disc slips off the others) and degenerative disc disease (which happens when discs lose their cushioning ability). Both of these problems usually arise in older runners ages 40 to 60. Ongoing stress from jogging can make these symptoms worse and merit a visit to a spinal specialist.
Core Exercises for a Runner’s Lower Back Pain
Without a strong core, the spine and spinal muscles are more vulnerable to injury. That’s why it’s important to augment your running regimen with strength exercises, particularly those that target the core. And if you’re experiencing back pain, try switching to low-impact exercises such as swimming, walking, biking or cycling.
Flexibility is the other half of the equation. If your lower body muscles, such as the glutes, hamstrings, quads and hip muscles, are tight, their narrow range of motion will impede your stride and affect the muscles in your lower back. These exercise don’t just build strength, they also boost your flexibility.
Planks – Planking targets not only your core, abs and back muscles, but also your glutes and hamstrings–you know, all the muscular MVPs when it comes to running.
Back Extensions – This exercise requires some gym equipment, but it’s a powerful way to strengthen the oft-overlooked back muscles.
Swiss Ball Pikes – Weak and strained paraspinal muscles are a common cause of low back pain, so strengthening them on an exercise ball makes sense.
Hip Raise & Reverse Hip Raise – Hip raises increase muscular strength and endurance in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
Cobra Pose – Another back extension exercise, the yoga “cobra” pose may help strengthen back muscles and provide relief.
Consult with a Specialist
Don’t let nagging runner’s lower back pain or stiffness ruin your Crescent City Classic experience. Schedule an appointment for an evaluation with one of our fellowship trained, board certified minimally invasive spine specialists today. We’ll get you back on track (literally)–and you’ll be celebrating your personal best at the Crescent City Classic’s endpoint in City Park in no time.
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