Dealing with Back Pain After Running

June 21, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Amit Merchant, D.O. contributes to topics such as Orthopedics, Pediatrics.

Herbert L. Kunkle, M.D. contributes to topics such as Orthopedic Surgery.

Jeffrey H. Charen, M.D. contributes to topics such as Orthopedic Surgery, Sports Medicine.

Pain is a signal that something isn’t working properly, so if you have back pain after running, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Don’t try to “just run through it.” Runners can experience intermittent back pain because of the pounding of their legs on a hard surface or because it is time to get new, more resilient shoes.

How to Prevent and Lessen Back Pain

Try applying heat or cold to your back to see if that lessens the pain. You might also need to spend more time on your warm-up and cool-down. Those exercises ensure that there is adequate blood flow to your muscles before your workout and that waste products are taken away afterward.

“Strengthening your core with yoga and other abdominal exercises will also help support your back muscles,” says Herbert Kunkle, M.D., board certified in orthopedic surgery. “Even people who exercise regularly might neglect their hips and pelvis. Make sure that hip joints stay flexible to keep the pelvis properly aligned and supportive of your spine.”

Acute back pain (pain of short duration) usually improves with home care, mild pain relievers, low-impact exercise like walking and improvements in posture. Integrative health treatments, like relaxation techniques or massage, can also help.

When to See a Doctor

Back pain that persists for more than a couple weeks, also known as chronic back pain warrants a visit to your doctor. The problem might be a strained muscle, muscle spasms or something else.

“It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint a specific cause for back pain,” says Amit Merchant, M.D., board certified in orthopedic surgery with a subspecialty in pediatric orthopedics. “A physician will have to proceed carefully to determine if the problem is related to muscles, tendons or ligaments, or to the vertebrae or discs. Pain that radiates from the back and down one leg could be a sign of sciatica, caused by pressure on a large nerve that runs from the spine down into each leg.”

Generalized pain in the lower back can be due to a herniated disc. The discs in your back separate and act as cushions between your vertebrae. A disc that is herniated has weakened and bulges out to one side, which can cause the vertebrae to press against each other or against nerves in the spinal column.

Similar symptoms arise from degenerated discs. “As we age, the intervertebral discs suffer from wear and tear,” says Jeffrey Charen, M.D., board certified in orthopedics and sports medicine. “They lose some of their flexibility, and when bones in the spine shift into new alignment, patients can experience pain.” The good news is that sometimes this pain eventually goes away on its own as the vertebrae settle.

Medical Interventions

Medical treatments for back pain range from over-the-counter painkillers to muscle relaxants and narcotics, which need to be administered and monitored closely to avoid dependence on them. Your physician may order physical medicine treatments, such as physical therapy, which can include braces, ultrasound or electrical stimulation. Certain back problems can be helped with surgery. Your doctor can help you determine the best course of action for chronic back pain.

Dr. Merchant practices in Hackensack. To make an appointment, call 855-424-9355. Dr. Kunkle practices in Manahawkin. To make an appointment, call 609-250-4104. Dr. Charen practices in Edison and Old Bridge. To make an appointment, call 908-757-1520 (Edison) or 732-360-2400 (Old Bridge).

All of the physicians mentioned in this article are part of Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, a network of over 1,000 physicians and advanced providers at more than 300 practice locations throughout New Jersey. Visit HMHMedicalGroup.org for more information.

To find a provider near you, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.