In many cases, a sciatic nerve flare-up is the culprit for causing sudden sharp lower back pain during running. However, another factor that may cause sudden sharp lower back pain during running is restricted torso rotation.
Cause of Sudden Sharp Lower Back Pain While Running
Past studies reported that lower back pain in runners was related to a guarded gait running style meaning that upper body rotation was very restricted during running . Researchers also found that a guarded gait during running resulted in rigid body motions and decreased range of motion —mechanical properties that may amplify impact on the back at touchdown.
Standard recommendations on biomechanics for joggers suggests limiting torso and shoulder rotation (for whatever reason). Now we are finding out that in doing so, causes upper body tension and movement rigidity [2,3], and that allowing your trunk to rotate naturally may provide protection on the body by deflecting impact.
Learning from Ethiopian Runners
Most Ethiopian runners ran barefoot, developed a forefoot strike and a much fluid gait as compared with habitually shod runners. If you obseve the running styles of Tirunesh Dibaba, Haile Gebrselassie and other elite Ethiopian distance runners, you will notice they have greater torso and shoulder rotation when they run, which highlights the fact that incidences of low back pain is uncommon in these runners.
There is a good chance that increased torso and shoulder rotation serves as a shield-effect to depress shock when running barefoot.
- suppressing upper body movement/rotation during running places greater demands on the low back musculature, eventually resulting in pain
The Take Home Message
If you suffer low back pain when barefoot running, you are probably restraining the range of motion of the upper body. In many Ethiopian distance runners, the shoulders and torso rotate as one entity, allowing for greater gait coordination.
Upper body rotation should be subtle, just enough to give you that added flow, like Dibaba or Bekele. Rely on the feel of comfort for the right amount of upper body rotation. If it feels good, you are doing it correctly!
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Why Forefoot Runnng May Feel Awkward at First
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. Seay et al., 2011. Low back pain status affects pelvic-trunk coordination and variability during walking and running. Clinic Biomech, 26, 572-78.
. Khodadadeh, S and Eisenstein, SM. 1993. Gait analysis of patients with low back pain before and after surgery. Spine, 18,1451-55.
. Taylor et al., 2003. The effect of walking faster on people with acute low back pain. Europ Spin Journ, 12, 166-72.
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.