Preventing Exercise-Related Back Pain
Stretching your hips and back is one of the best ways to avoid back pain.

Preventing Exercise-Related Back Pain

You may expect to feel the effects of walking or running in your feet, knees, or shins, but when your back and shoulders hurt at the end of the day, it might not occur to you that exercise could be to blame. Unfortunately, though, the impact from running or walking can affect you all the way up to the neck.

One reason is impact; the force of each step jolts your spine. Another reason is alignment; most of us have some kind of alignment or posture issue that puts extra pressure on our upper or lower backs. Last is lack of flexibility; stretching and loosening your back and hips will go a long way to preventing back pain. Here are four strategies for preventing exercise-related back pain.

1. Relax Your Back

Stiffness in your upper back can put a load on your neck or lower back, leading to pain in those areas. One simple way to relax your back is the back flexion stretch. Lie on your back and pull both knees to your chest as far as possible. Next, do the same thing with each knee separately. Tighten your stomach muscles as you lower each leg to the ground.

2. Stretch Your Hip Flexors

Tightness in the hip flexors has a direct effect on your stance and gait as you run. To stretch the muscles in the front of your hip, do this easy kneeling lunge. Kneel on your right leg with your left leg out in front of you, knee bent and foot flat on the floor. Keeping your back straight, slowly push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the upper thigh and hip of the leg that is behind you.  Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. For additional hip flexor exercises, see these instructions.

3. Wear the Right Shoes

The position of your feet affects your alignment from the ground up. For that reason, it’s important to buy the right running shoes appropriate for your anatomy. Issues such as pronation and arch height not only affect your gait, they also affect your posture. Get expert help choosing the right shoes and make sure your running shoes aren’t setting you up for back pain.

4. Build Your Balance

We underestimate the importance of balance in maintaining good posture and preventing back pain. One of the easiest ways to improve your balance is to do a simple yoga posture called Tree Pose. With your hands clasped in front of your chest, shift your weight onto your right leg and lift your left foot off the ground. Slowly raise your left leg and bend the knee out to the side. When your left foot is even with your knee, bring it to rest on your right calf. If you can, raise your arms toward the sky. Maintain your balance for 5 breaths. If you can’t get into this pose by yourself, it is okay to start by using the wall for support. For more yoga poses that are helpful for runners, see this handy list.

More detailed instructions on stretching for back pain relief are available here.

Brian Soo, Physical Therapist

Brian Soo is a senior physical therapist at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center who works inpatient, outpatient, and in sports medicine.  A recreational runner for many years, Brian also bicycles, plays racquetball, and most importantly, paddles on a 20-person Dragon Boat team that competes internationally and practices three times a week. He also enjoys active video games and believes they can be an excellent complement to an overall fitness regime.