Low Back Pain with Running

Be sure to check out some of our favorite core exercises for runners at the end of this post!

Ever have low back pain? I betcha have - it’s one of the most common locations to have pain. Low back pain is most frequently seen at rest in younger, more active populations. This is often due to an overall decrease in activity level or from maintaining one position for too long - whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down.

The fix for these types of low back pain is often easy - MOVE! Switch it up. Don’t stay in one position for too long. Typically walking or running helps with these types of low back pain. Easy!

BUT that doesn’t mean people can’t have low back pain that is associated with running. This is still common. Usually, we see this when a runner demands more from the low back muscles than the muscles are used to. They don’t yet have the strength or endurance for what you are asking them to do, so they get overworked which can lead to pain.

This scenario is typically from either increasing your weekly mileage/intensity too quickly or from running a race effort. This is especially common if it has been some time since your last race effort (2020 anyone?).

The long term solution to this scenario is to build up the strength of your core stability muscles so that they are not fatigued at the end of a run or race. They then can help you maintain good form the entire run. A stronger, more stable core will also limit the amount of excessive movement outside of the running plane of motion (called the sagittal plane). This allows you to put more energy into running forward and become a faster runner.

Neutral Spine

Whether or not you’ve got low back pain, it is important to be in tune with your body. We’ve made a video about finding neutral spine - which can be applied throughout your day while running, sitting, lying down, standing, bending, or lifting.

We have had hundreds of patients with back pain that immediately were able to be in control of their symptoms, just by learning these methods in the video. Check it out!

Our Favorite Core Strengthening Exercises for Runners

We also use the neutral spine concept with most of our strengthening exercises. This is true when working the upper body, lower body, and the core (especially running-specific core strengthening).

Think of your core/torso as your foundation for your legs and arms. We want a solid foundation for our extremities to work from, to best propel ourselves forward. If we lack this core stability it is like trying to fire a cannon from a canoe - things will get sloppy!

Do crunches, situps, and Russian twists work to keep your torso stable while your extremities are moving? Nope.

That doesn’t make them bad exercises - they’re just not very running specific.

What do running-specific core exercises look like? Keep a neutral spine position with a stable core/torso while the legs and arms are moving.

Here are some of our favorite running-specific core exercises. These can also often be a good starting point for those with low back pain. Make sure you watch the neutral spine video above and practice this first!

We always include core stabilization exercises such as these in our CPT Strength Training for Runners monthly subscription program. Click here to find out more info!

We hope you have a great New Year!


Dr. Kelton Cullenberg, PT, DPT

Cullenberg Physical Therapy and Performance