Top Five Tips (Sports Summer Series): Healthy Back Tips for Runners and Walkers

This summer, we will be sharing tips and tricks for enjoying outdoor activities and recreational sports. Keep an eye out for new posts in June, July and August.

Ever since researchers proclaimed “sitting was the new smoking,” walking and running exercises have been on the rise. Walking is known to help lessen back pain because it “strengthens the muscles supporting the spine by actively engaging and contracting the core, back, and leg muscles, which work together to stabilize the spine,” (source: Spine-Health). Running, on the other hand, has numerous muscle and cardiovascular health benefits when one warms up and properly.

But before any new regimen of exercise, there are important factors to consider when it comes to injury and pain prevention. Here are our doctors’ top tips for keeping a healthy back as a runner or walker:

1. Warm up, cool down and stretch daily.

These two important components of a workout are often rushed (or completely overlooked). This is unfortunate, considering they can have a significant impact on protecting our muscles and bodies. In addition, flexibility is critical for comfort and longevity – those stretches are a key part of overall wellness!

Performing some slow, intentional, and controlled stretches before a long jaunt can do wonders for preparing your body for the exertion. After a walk or run, engage in a similar stretch sequence for a cool-down to keep your muscles active for about 10-15 minutes afterward.

In between workouts, it’s important to continue stretching to and loosen up sore muscles. This helps reduce strain on the back, as hamstrings and other leg muscles provide essential support to the body (source: Sports Health). Tight hamstrings place stress on the lower back muscles, which we never want for our patients.

2. Wear the proper shoes (and change them as needed).

While many walkers and runners are willing to research and purchase the right sneakers, they often continue using their footwear long after their use. If you notice wear and tear on your shoes, chances are your muscles and bones already feel it. Most experts recommend replacing your shoes every 300 to 500 miles to ensure your back doesn’t bear the brunt of a worn-out sole.

3. Be mindful of your training terrain.

It may be easiest to run on the sidewalks of your neighborhood, but it’s best to find a designated track or dirt trail. Even an asphalt road is more forgiving to the body than a concrete sidewalk because concrete is about 10 times harder on the body when running.

If you cannot avoid sidewalks, try to add some variety to your running surfaces and minimize how often you run on the sidewalk. Ideally, you should only run on the sidewalk a few times per week.

4. Keep a strong core by changing up your exercises.

As with stretching, alternating forms of exercise is important for maintaining spinal health. Cross-training is helpful for runners to avoid getting into an overuse syndrome, which can put a strain on muscles that support the core/spine. Consider alternating running days with swimming, bike riding and/or lifting weights.

Muscle toning and strength training also help support and protect the core muscles of the back, so mindfully lifting weights (preferably when guided by a professional) can be a helpful asset. Core-strengthening exercises such as planks and crunches build the muscles in your abdominals, obliques and back, giving you a strong and balanced core that is less likely to get injured.

5. Listen to your body: don’t run through pain (or ignore it).

Perhaps the most important tip of all: if you develop pain, don’t push yourself through it – address it. Low back issues respond better to treatment when they first crop up. Running through pain increases a runner’s risk of turning a minor injury into a major health setback. If your back bothers you, take a few days of rest before you (quite literally) hit the ground running.

While minor soreness is common when beginning a walking or running routine, any pain that doesn’t dissipate within 24 to 48 hours should be addressed by a physician. You can also promptly treat injuries such as muscle pulls or sprains using the R.I.C.E. principle:

  • Restrict activity (AKA rest the injured area)
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

Have you experienced pain while walking or running? Our team of board-certified providers are here to help. Schedule your consultation today: (561) 495-9511