An essential way to avoid lumbar back injury while running is to allow your trunk and pelvis to rotate naturally. Restricted trunk and pelvic rotation during forefoot running, or in any style of running, increases the risk of back injury.
How To Avoid Lumbar Back Injury While Running
In general, many joggers think running is hard on the body and as a result, move with more caution by restricting torso and pelvic rotation.
- Attempting to minimize pain by avoiding unplanned movements through restricting trunk and pelvic rotation particularly between the pelvis and thorax, increases lower back stiffness which may be responsible for back injury in runners. This is why many runners with back injuries tend to run slower than healthy runners, to prevent back pain from escalating.
A study by van de Hoorn et. suggests that intentionally restricting trunk rotation during running not only increases trunk stiffness, but also increases superficial lumbar muscle activity.
Running faster may prevent back injury whereby Murrey at el. suggested that increasing running speed may force an increase in knee flexion, helping absorb impact to protect the back.
In the same study, the researchers found that runners with back pain had reduced amplitude in pelvis and trunk rotation and a more extended knee during ground contact compared to healthy runners. They also found that pelvic rotation was a discriminate factor between runners with back pain and healthy runners.
- Runners with back pain had significantly less pelvic sway or rotation compared to healthy runners.
Bend Your Knees when You Run!
Knee joint kinematics also influences back injury in runners. Many studies have pointed to knee extension at touchdown during running as a potential cause of back injury.
- A more extended knee (i.e. unbent knee) at touchdown during running increases the vertical ground reaction force and reduces shock absorption.
- Muller et al. also found that runners with back pain increased knee extension compared to healthy runners when they ran on uneven surfaces.
The take home message is that running is not hard on the body if a forefoot landing is used. However, inhibiting torso and pelvic rotation will spur the accumulation of body stress resulting in back pain and injury. Running faster, loosening your torso/hips and bending your knees has not been shown to be harmful and is part of the body’s natural biomechanical cascade involved in dampening impact.
More From Run Forefoot:
Muller et al. Low back pain affects trunk as well as lower limb movements during walking and running. J Biomech, 2015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2015.01.042
Murray et al. Kinematic and EMG patterns during slow, free, and faster walking. J Orthop Res, 1984; (3)2:272-80
Podraza, J.T., White, S.C., 2010. Effect of knee ﬂexion angle on ground reaction forces, knee moments and muscle co-contraction during an impact-like deceleration landing: implications for the non-contact mechanism of ACL injury. Knee 17 (4), 291–295.
van den Hoorn, W., Bruijn, S.M., Meijer, O.G., Hodges, P.W., van Dieen, J.H., 2012. Mechanical coupling between transverse plane pelvis and thorax rotations during gait is higher in people with low back pain. J. Biomech. 45 (2), 342–347.
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.