According to research, more than 70% of people in the US will experience at least one episode of low back pain (LBP) in their life.  What is known about LBP and jogging?  Keep in mind running is an extension activity in the spine.  It also involves obvious repetitive compression/loading with ground impact.

A recent study in the Journal of Athletic Training (Sept./Oct. 2009) looked at the impact of lumbar paraspinal muscle fatigue and postural adjustments seen in running.  Poor lumbar extension endurance has been linked to increased risk for developing LBP.  In this study, researches looked at 25 recreationally active participants with a history of recurrent episodes of LBP and 25 healthy controls.


The testing process included:

  1. 5 minute warm-up on the treadmill
  2. 60 seconds of treadmill jogging at self selected pace
  3. 1 set of fatiguing isometric lumbar extension exercise
  4. Another 60 second treadmill jog at the same speed

For your reference, the fatiguing lumbar exercise consisted of repeated cycles of 10 second, gravity resisted isometric contractions followed by a 10 second rest on a lumber hyper extension chair.  So, what did the results show?

In a nutshell, those with a history of recurrent LBP showed much less postural adjustment with the muscle fatigue compared to their healthy counterparts.  The healthy subjects tended to exhibit a more forward trunk lean (1.1 degrees or less lumbar lordosis) and increase lateral bend during jogging gait.

On the flip side, those with recurrent LBP, they tended to stay more upright (0.2 degrees of additional lean on average).  The authors feel this may indicate a coping mechanism due to core instability and a way to effectively stabilize the spine.    Increased trunk lean would increase forces on the spine and intervertebral disc.  The lack of change in the population with LBP may help explain excessive fatigue in the muscles that support the spine, pelvis and hips.

So what does this mean for those who have LBP?  The postural change, or rather lack thereof, may be an Aha moment in regard to the need for improved core training for runners and athletes.  It should also indicate that long term running or athletic competitions may increase the risk for more frequent LBP or a greater back injury. 

There are three big takeaway messages here:

  1. Include low back extension endurance training in your workouts
  2. Integrate appropriate core exercises (planks, side planks, 3 dimensional exercise) to improve strength and stability of the hips, pelvis and spine
  3. Get professional evaluation and training from a knowledgeable fitness pro if you have LBP