Running and your back

by | Exercise and Fitness

Most of us will suffer an episode of acute low back pain.  Some will have frequent bouts and the pain may last for months.  The treatment of back pain used to be bed rest and pain killers but it’s now known that keeping moving is best, aided by pain relievers.

But what about prevention?

General physical fitness is assumed to be good for back pain prevention, especially where the exercise strengthens the core muscles that stabilise the spinal column.  It’s a similar story in the knee where strong quadriceps protect the joint and probably reduce pain (link to Tai Chi and the Knee). But the exercises that many experts have said are poison for the back, are running and jogging, allegedly because of the repeated pummelling and impact.

Well, that may be wrong advice according to recent research from Deakin University.  They studied men and women aged 25-35 comparing their intervertebral disks (the shock absorbers between the spinal vertebrae) to the amount of running and jogging they’d carried out over the previous five years.

It turned out that jogging for about 150 minutes a week and long distance running were associated with larger, healthier disks than people who did neither.  These were not people with back pain, nor was it a trial to test whether jogging increases disk health and size but it did show an association and certainly no harm.

No-one knows why this might be so.  It didn’t seem to be due to high impact but perhaps more to do with the accelerations and decelerations in the course of a normal run.