Any time you push your limits on physical activity, it may cause discomfort during the recovery period. A long run can leave you short of breath and sore the next morning.
While a moderate level of soreness is expected as you increase your physical capacity, back pain after running may be a symptom of an underlying issue.
In many cases, running may not be the direct cause of back pain. Research has shown that elite athletes, including competitive runners, actually experience less back pain than the average person.
However, running can exacerbate symptoms of back pain, such as:
Back pain that persists or increases in intensity may be a symptom of an underlying condition. Common conditions that cause back pain include hyperlordosis, muscle strains and sprains, and herniated disc.
Back pain is commonly caused by hyperlordosis, a type of poor posture. It’s marked by an exaggerated inward curve of the spine in your lower back.
This causes your bottom to push out and your stomach to lean forward. A profile view in the mirror will show a C-shaped arch.
To test for hyperlordosis at home, stand straight against a wall with your legs shoulder-width apart, and the back of your heels about 2 inches from touching the wall.
With your head, shoulder blades, and bottom touching the wall, you should be able to fit your hand between the wall and the curved portion of your back.
If there is more than one hand space between your back and the wall, it may be an indication of hyperlordosis.
Hyperlordosis may be caused by:
Hyperlordosis does not generally require medical treatment. It can often be corrected by improving your posture through stretches and exercises.
Here are some simple posture exercises you can try at home:
- Move your shoulders slowly up and down in a circular motion, pushing forward on the way up and out toward your back on the way down.
- Extend your arms out at shoulder height and move them in a small circular motion.
- While standing, squat down as though you were sitting in a chair.
- Standing tall, place one hand over your ear. Rest the other hand and arm flat at your side. Lean in the direction opposite to the covered ear.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend a weight loss program, physical therapy, or over-the-counter medication for pain.
Excess physical activity can cause muscles and ligaments in your lower back to stretch too much or tear. This can result in pain, stiffness, and even muscle spasms.
Strains and sprains in your back can often be treated at home:
- Limit physical activity for a few days. Slowly begin to exercise again after 2 to 3 weeks.
- Apply ice for the first 48 to 72 hours, then switch to heat.
- If needed, take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
- Avoid activities that involve twisting your back or heavy lifting for the 6 weeks after the pain started.
If pain or discomfort persist, you should make an appointment to see your doctor.
As you age, your spinal discs may experience excessive wear and tear, known as degenerative disc disease. Because the discs in your back absorb the shock of activities like running, when the discs weaken it can cause back pain after running.
In severe cases, a slipped disc can eventually lead to permanent nerve damage. Your doctor will recommend treatment based on the severity of your symptoms, which can range from OTC pain relievers to surgery.
Though you may experience normal levels of soreness after running, you should not have pain in your back that limits your movement.
Many causes of back pain after running can be relieved with home care that includes proper rest and limits on physical activity. Your doctor may also recommend running on a different type of surface or wearing shoes with proper support.