lower back pain when running

How to help your lower back pain when running.

Running successfully requires two things: the ability to absorb shock well and to have mental stamina. Whether you are new or have been running for some time now, you truly need a mind-body connection during your run. We will teach you how to help your lower back pain when running.

The design and nature of your musculoskeletal and fascia system allow your body to absorb and release shock, called kinetic energy. We like to start to compare this phenomenon to a spring coil.

The power of the spring design comes from the ability to load to explode. Running is the same. The beauty is the kinetic chain transfer. The explode happens from what the other leg does. How well your left leg can push and pull comes from the right leg, and vice-versa.

We did think for some time to make the first paragraph of this article to include “absorb shock and produce raw power”. If you think about the spring coil analogy, you explode based on how well you recoil. Right?

You push on the spring lightly. You get a light bounce. If nothing at all.

You push on the spring so the top coil is the closest to the ground, and you will have to watch yourself. The spring might bounce high up towards you!

Load to explode.

If you watch people run, the amount of leg lift can tell you how well they are pushing force into the ground. They are loading lightly. The muscle stabilizers and movers are working more than they should. Yes, there are two types of muscles.

There are muscles that help to make sure your muscles and joints are balanced to work in harmony. This is called the stabilizers. If you have noisy joints or trouble transitioning from bed to sitting position, sitting to standing, or getting out of a car, the research indicates this can due to not using the stabilizers well.

There are muscles that help you to move. You move best when the stabilizers are working before your movers. The idea of stabilizers is the same of saying of “you are only as strong as your foundation”.

You can still have arthritis and run well.

How? If you shift your movement habits from stabilizers first, then movers second, you will feel better by moving from a better foundation! We have helped many people stay running due to this. It is the most common reason for many people’s running problem.

Here is a list of common reasons for why your body is choosing to run from your movers first, over your stabilizers.

  • History of leg surgery like ACL or meniscus surgery. Even if you felt great and it was 10 years ago.
  • History of digestive issues. This is due to the fact that your gut health has priority over your muscles. You are not recovery well as your gut helps you to absorb nutrients and give you energy. You power your run when you get tried.
  • History of lower back pain or sciatica, especially the recurrent type. The type that hurts yearly but goes away.
  • History of concussion, brain fog, or high work/personal stress lifestyle. Your brain is what connects and produces the harmony between your muscle and joint.
  • History of a fall on your buttock. Your tailbone is a region with a complex bundle of nerves.
  • You have a tightness to your leg muscles, and foam rolling, massages, and such help temporarily.

From our experience, your joints might take on MORE stress from the intention of an “I am going to take it easy and make it a low impact” run. If we go back to the coil-spring mechanism, a light jog is the same as a small recoil from the spring.

Push light into the spring and the spring will bounce a short distance.


The spine and hips are being stressed by the compression overload phenomenon. Your lower back and pelvis muscles are on constant work. It does not relax well over time. Muscles that do not relax well places pressure on your joints via compression.

Below we explain common movement dysfunction that can be addressed with a Sports Medicine Specialist that understands running.

Before we give you our favorite mechanical and movement expert advice, we will talk about mental endurance or stamina. We did start the article with the 2 most important factors to run well. If you have run before, especially a marathon, you can agree that running can be more mental than physical.

We are not machines so we figured we cannot ignore the power of the mind.


How to help your body to run with lower back pain.

If you would like the 5 running exercise specific for lower back pain suffers, fill out our short form below. You will get a video for you to enhance your run.


Have sufficient hip extension mobility.

Hip extension is necessary to harness the spring-coil mechanism that we wrote earlier. The motion is important based on Newton’s law of motion.

If you do not have sufficient hip extension mobility, your lower lumbar spine or sacroiliac joint will have to do what the hip joint is designed to handle. Our lumbar spine consists of 5 vertebrae that produce a small amount of combined rotation and extension when compared to the massive ball and socket design of the coxa-femoral joint (hip joint).

She is showing off her hip extension mobility!

Our body is a compensation machine. The push back-extension motion is important that your body will use your lumbar spine to give up that extra push-off. Your lumbar spine and sacroiliac joint will end up developing permanent extra motion when done over a long duration. The stress on the spine is called shear stress. The tradeoff is that you lose the coil spring mechanism of the muscles, joints, ligaments and surrounding fascia, and this will increase your lower back pain when running.

The combination of not having hip extension and shear stress is not what will hurt your spine. The inability to control the force to go towards the lumbar spine is probably the pain that you are feeling. If you do not have good muscle control strategies, this is called segmental spine instability.

A common symptom that makes us suspect an underlying spinal instability is a complaint of tight hamstrings, hips or calves muscles.

Our lumbar spine is well designed and resilient. If you are feeling symptoms of sciatica when you run, then you might be having more disc related lower back pain when runnings. The tissues of the spinal disc becomes stressed and overworked. There is less protection towards the neighboring nerves, and hence, the numbness and tightness to your legs.

As your hind leg goes back towards your toes, called toe-off, this action helps to build ground reaction force. There is a law in physics where you get an equal and opposite reaction force. Basically, this means that the more force of hip extension you produce into the group, the exact power is produced by the ground. The result is the explosive, and effortless, spring motion of your leg into hip flexion.

Have sufficient arc of hip motion.

If you were a skater skating, you get momentum and velocity by picking up your leg higher up. The same goes for running. We call this the wind-up mechanism.

The wind-up phenomenon allows the greater hip extension force into the ground. A pendulum swing helps explain this idea. The greater you swing one way the equal amount happens to the other side of the swing.

In order to produce greater hip extension force, you need the ability to go into hip extension (range of motion) and adequate hip flexion. This will help you to absorb the running force throughout your lower body and help your lower back pain when running.

We are not saying that hip extension strength from the gluteus maximus and medius muscle strength, is not important. We recommend 2-3 times a week of hip and leg strengthening, separate of running.

Have sufficient hip flexion strength.

When we see a runner that is not picking up and swing their hips adequately, we assume that they no not have the mobility and strength of their hip extensors. This was explained earlier. But once in a while, we find that they have weak front spinal strength to handle the front swing phase of running.

The runner can swing and pick up the leg easier if there is adequate hip flexor and lower abdominal strength. We would add internal and external abdominal obliques to this list.

If you are running on up and down terrains, having strong abdominals and hip flexors is important. Your run cannot rely of efficiency and momentum when you are going uphill. You need power.

When you go downhill, you need eccentric power to slow your body from running too far forward.

Have sufficient leg coordination and balance.

Mobility and strength is what many runners think of when we ask them what physical training do they do, alongside their run. In reality and it is unfortunate, but we do do not find many runners that strength train.

Many tend to grab their shoes and run.

This can be a chicken-or-egg question, but one can argue that balance and coordination trumps mobility and strengthening. It does not matter if you have strong legs, when you cannot balance to control how to use your legs during a run.

There are two quick screens we implement for all runners.

  1. Stand on one leg and the other knee up at hip height. The reason for the hip height is to have a consistent test and retest accuracy. You should be able to stand on one leg for 30 seconds without falling. Proceed with eyes closed for 10 seconds. You have to master both legs with eyes closed and open.
  2. Stand with both feet on one straight line. Feet should be far enough so that you can proceed in performing a lunge. Again, you should have good control with your eyes open and closed.

Running is a narrow stance type of activity. You cannot fixate your visual gaze, so your eyes cannot effectively help you to balance. This is why you need to have good balance without your eyes.

You may be surprised to find that you are struggling with your balance. Strength is not as important if you do not know how to harness your strength. It is similar to driving a high horsepower Ford Mustang, and not knowing how to drive within the street lanes.

Lastly, coordination of your body to allow the kinetic energy form running to move throughout your body. This is important for that efficient spring coil mechanism. You need to remember running is where the spring coil keeps bouncing steadily. If you are able to control the running stress, your lower back pain when running will ease up.

If you are not coordinated, then it is similar to driving during peak traffic hours. It is a stop and go pattern. You cannot absorb shock well. The stress goes your knees, hips, and/or lumbar spine.

The quick test is skipping. Make sure your skip is relaxed and you can breath well during it.

Run from you spine first, legs second.

This is the foundational principle of all sports. It is the foundation of being athletic. If you do not consider yourself an athlete, you should understand that running without hurting required you to move like an athlete first.

You have lower back pain and the idea of having a stronger spine makes sense to do. The key is to spend a proportional amount of time on your core as your running mileage. We recommend spending 1 minute of core exercises for every mile you run.

A complete spinal health protocol for running includes strengthening your front, side, and back of your spine.

Try front planks for 30 seconds. Side planks can be 15+ seconds on each side. 10 single leg box squats for each leg. We also favor hip bridge exercise to address hip extension mobility and strength.

Doing this spine saving protocol will help your lower back pain when running.

Don’t neglect your arms.

If you do everything above well, this last advice should not be a problem. It happens naturally. However, if you notice that you are not swinging your arms during your run, we believe you are not transferring the spring-coil load from leg to leg well.

Your arms helps to give you that efficient snap or umph. The strong snap is the same as a smart golfer using their legs to hit the golf ball far. The snap and fastball comes from the legs of a pitcher and not their arm.

Think pulling an imaginary lawn mower cord as you run. You maybe surprised at how much this will help your legs to run.

Interested in how to transform your body so it is fit to run? Fill out the form below to get your 5 running specific exercises that will help your lower back pain too.


Hope this article helps you get back to the activity that helps relax your mind and keep your body physically feeling young!

We have helped 100’s of runners get back to running regardless of disc herniations, stenosis, or degeneration.

If you need immediate running assistance due to lower back pain, click on the button below and schedule your FREE consultation with a running specialist.


Dr Danh Ngo

Doctor in Physical Therapist

Board Certified Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Specialist