Causes of Sudden Sharp Lower Back Pain While Running

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.

Sudden Sharp Lower Back Pain While Running

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 [1]. Researchers also found that a guarded gait during running resulted in rigid body motions and decreased range of motionmechanical 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.

Restricted Upper Rotation May Cause Sudden Sharp Lower Back Pain
Ryan Hall demonstrates an excellent example of running with a ‘guarded gait’. He restricts both shoulder and torso rotation during running, and he has struggled with injury.

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.

How to prevent sudden sharp lower back pain while running
Ethiopian runners have a subtle rotation in the torso and shoulders compared to many non-African elite runners. The slight twisting of the upper body may enhance gait coordination, allowing for a smoother interaction with the ground.

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.

How to reduce back pain when running
Try ‘letting go’ of your torso, like Dibaba, by letting the upper body rotate to an extent that feels natural, and most importantly, feels most comfortable.

Avoid Over-Twisting

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!


More From Run Forefoot:

Patella Pain – Find out how to reduce this.

Why Forefoot Runnng May Feel Awkward at First

Examples of Forefoot Running Shoes

Vibrams are so hard to find, but not online!


[1]. Seay et al., 2011. Low back pain status affects pelvic-trunk coordination and variability during walking and running. Clinic Biomech, 26, 572-78.

[2]. Khodadadeh, S and Eisenstein, SM. 1993. Gait analysis of patients with low back pain before and after surgery. Spine, 18,1451-55.

[3]. Taylor et al., 2003. The effect of walking faster on people with acute low back pain. Europ Spin Journ, 12, 166-72.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

Latest posts by Bretta Riches (see all)

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.