Can Running Put Your Back at Risk?

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People may think that the jarring motion involved in running puts the spine at greater risk for injury. Could there be some truth in it?

One research behind lower back pain in runners, published by Garbutt G in 1990, which looked at two groups of runners – one of which had chronic low back pain, found a correlation between the running speed, distance covered and the overall length of the spine – suggesting that the longer and faster you run, the shorter you get. However, the results also suggest that low back pain was not related to the shrinkage caused by running.

Another study, published in 1995 by T. Videman, which looked at almost 1,000 former elite athletes of various sports, showed that lower back pain was less common in athletes than in the general population. An addition, runners in particular have a reduced rate of disc degeneration and bulging compared to soccer players and weight lifters.

A recent study published by Belavy, et al. in April 2017 even found that runners’ discs in general were larger and contained more fluid than of those who did not exercise – indicating that runners’ spines were healthier than those who are sedentary. The authors also state that walking briskly at a pace of about 4 miles per hour could provide the same benefits to the spine as running.

The above studies provide evidence that our spine is well equipped to handle the load associated with running, so what’s causing some runners to experience back pain? While one older (1985) study by Delanie Bach seem to indicate muscles tightness of the hip flexors and hamstrings as the culprit, the number of subjects involved in the study wasn’t enough to make the findings statistically significant.

So, runners should take comfort in knowing that their risk for back pain due to spinal damage is actually lower than non-runners.