Low back pain on spine from running shouldn’t be common, but it is, and there’s a reason for this. Populating data shows that occurrence of a sore lower back from running is due to the repetitive high impact landings and postural impairments associated with heel striking.
Low Back Pain on Spine From Running
There are multiple ways heel strike running hurts the lower back. For one, a rapid impact spike at heel strike is generated which propagates as a shock-wave that travels up the leg, into the back causing soft tissue swelling. Researchers are convinced that the rapid impact spike may not be properly dissipated, or absorbed by the body when running.
Heel strike running also evokes poor posture which contributes to a sore lower back.
- Previous work has found that many heel strike runners have excessive anterior pelvic tilt, leading to lumbar lordosis during running.
Heel strike runners also hold their torso upright when running, rather than leaning forward as seen in forefoot runners. And, heel strike runners show maximum knee extension at heel strike (the knee is not bent) which augments impact rather than reduces it.
Taken together, extremity stiffness arises, which causes lower back pain when running.
In that case, wearing shoes with a thicker heel should absorb impact related to lower back pain, right?
Cushioned Running Shoes Wont Help
For a heel striker, running shoes with a heavily cushioned heel only masks the ‘feel’ of the ground reaction force thus providing a comfortable ride.
- a cushioned heel does not fully absorb the impact force at heel strike, nor does it prevent it
- the force is generated by landing hard on the heel that is placed in front of the center of mass which causes a rapid deceleration at each step i.e. the body slams on the brakes
Forefoot Strike Easier on the Lower Back
Mechanically, a forefoot strike landing eliminates the impact transient of heel strike running and allows for greater knee flexion and compliance thereby phasing out extremity stiffness and lower back pain.
Need more convincing that forefoot running is better? Here are more ways forefoot running is better on the body than heel strike running.
More to Explore at Run Forefoot:
- Who is Tirunesh Dibaba and Why We Need to Run More Like Her
- Prevent Lateral Knee Pain When Running
- 13 Reasons to Try Barefoot Running
- 30 Most Recommended Shoes for Forefoot Runners
- Where to Look When Running
Be sure to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, for more tips and answers to questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and footwear. I’m always happy to help.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.