3 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Running After a Back Injury

David Liira

If you can avoid doing them, you’ll be spared so much pain!

Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

With the power of social media, you can come across virtually every opinion and approach for treating back pain in mere seconds. Unfortunately, many folks out there are still believing the stuff doctors were preaching 20–30 years ago. Spoiler alert, it’s not very pretty. While many of us are finally catching up with evidence-based strategies, there are still a few beliefs around back pain and running that need to be put down for good.

Today we’ll cover 3 of those mistakes that many runners make when getting on the roads after a bout of back pain. If you can get past these roadblocks, you’ll be in much better shape to fully overcome your pain and get back to sustainable, healthy running. While everyone’s journey and fitness level are different, you can be sure that these tips will benefit you wherever you’re at!

3 mistakes runners make with back pain.

First of all, please check in with your health provider if you’re currently struggling with back pain. Due to the complexity of back complications, it’s key to get personalized, professional care to point you in the right direction. Based on your injury, your timeline for a full recovery can range from 2 weeks to multiple years. This doesn’t mean you can’t get back on the roads sooner, but it will affect how you train. With that out of the way, let’s dive in!

1) You don’t need to get an x-ray or scan. 

When people experience back pain, one of the first thoughts is often to go get an x-ray. Realistically, this should be the last resort. If you look at medical imaging, you’ll likely see ‘misalignments’ in your spine, many of which aren’t even connected to your pain or symptoms. All this will do is increase your fear around movement and spike stress levels. 

As the technology for imaging has improved over the years, our ability to see the internal parts of our bodies in great detail has improved. In the management of most low back pain, the detail with which we can see the structures of the spine has turned out to be a curse. The reason for this is because there is not a strong cause-and-effect relationship between what is seen on imaging and the patient’s symptoms.

Now the unfortunate thing with most people in the medical profession nowadays is that they do not read this type of research. Because of this, imaging is ordered way too early and way too often with the belief that we will be able to find the exact cause of a person’s symptoms. — Bob Brady, PT 

As you can see, medical imaging isn’t all that accurate when it comes to back pain patients. Instead, consider going to see a physical therapist who can more organically help you find solutions. As a culture, we’re far too obsessed with getting the exact diagnosis for our injuries. What we should put far more energy into is building strategies that actually make us feel better instead of stress us out. 

Stop seeking your perfect diagnosis through imaging and start finding sustainable solutions to feel better!

2) Bedrest is not your best friend. 

As severe as your back pain may be (from a minor strain to a major disc injury), full sedentary behavior is never the answer. Why? A lack of movement means a lack of recovery. Physical activity is the ‘magic potion’ for increasing blood circulation, oxygen, and the flow of repair cells to your damaged site. If you want to build healthy tissue, you must move and do it frequently!

To expedite your recovery, try to take breaks from sitting every 20–30 minutes throughout the day. Even the simple act of standing up out of your chair can shift the fate of your spinal health over time. If you’re in severe pain, try to implement light chore activities to get you active every day. Even if this means shuffling down the hall, it’s worth doing. If you’re in slightly better shape, daily walks can make a huge difference (more on this in a second). 

If you want to take your recovery to the next level, mobility training is never a bad idea. The key to all of this is to move slowly within your pain-free range of motion. If you make movement and mobility a daily practice, along with a properly progressed resistance training program, you’ll be well on your way to recovery! 

When it comes to back pain, bedrest is the last thing you need. Movement is medicine! 

3) There’s no need to go from 0 to 100. 

Many folks have the mindset that when it’s time to get back on the roads, it’s time to go all out. Unfortunately, this almost always backfires on them as they experience another flare-up and are forced to take more time off. When you do get to a point when you’re feeling up for re-implementing running back into your life, it’s absolutely critical to do it slowly over a period of time. This is important for all injuries, but especially so when navigating back complications.

The best way to approach this is to do a walk/run combination when starting out. At the very beginning stages, start with a 1 minute on, 1 minute off cycle and repeat for 3–5 bouts. As you feel better, you can gradually increase the duration of your run periods. For example, (1:1, 2:2, 5:3, 10:4, etc...).

While a kinesiologist or physiotherapist can assist you in this process, this is more of an intuitive process than anything. If you can run 5 minutes today pain-free, try going for 6 or 7 minutes a couple of days later. Not feeling so hot? Try backing off and dropping the length or total volume of your intervals. 

Start off by doing this walk/run strategy 2–3 times per week. If you keep this up and commit to pacing yourself, you can get back to running pain-free for 20min+ in a matter of weeks. This is all about playing the long game. 

Let is be heard over and over again… injury recovery is a marathon and not a sprint!

In closing,

Navigating back pain as a runner is extremely difficult. If you want to get back into full form ASAP, do yourself a favor and throw these 3 common running mistakes to the wayside. Instead of searching for x-rays, focus on finding solutions. Instead of lying in bed, keep moving your body as it was designed to move. Lastly, instead of trying to jump back into full activity, pace out your workouts and trust the long game. 

Do these 3 things right and you’ll be well on your way to getting back out there!

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Kinesiologist & Blogger. 15k+ followers. Dedicated to writing relevant, up-to-date pieces on health and the human condition. My job (and joy) is to save you time and money by delivering the tools you need to take control of your own wellbeing. https://www.davidliira.com/


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