Running with Back Pain: Do or Don’t? – The Mother Runners

Running with Back Pain: Do or Don’t? – The Mother Runners

Back pain and motherhood go hand in hand. I never suffered from an achy posterior until I had back pain during pregnancy and then back pain postpartum. The around-the-clock breastfeeding and body contortion required to multitasking while carrying a small human equaled chronic back pain.

I was walking my three-year-old daughter home from pre-school while carrying her school bag and our 2-month-old son. My daughter was tired. We had about a quarter-mile to go. She didn’t feel like walking.

Before having my son, I would have scooped her up and carried her home, no problem. It’s not that far. But now I was carrying another human. He didn’t weigh that much so I figured, “sure, why not?”

I picked her up and placed her on one hip while cradling him in the other arm with the bag over my shoulder. My body was twisted, and I wasn’t walking in a balanced way, but surely these few minutes weren’t going to do much damage.

When we arrived home, I unloaded everything and everyone and felt a sharp pain in my back. I hoped it’d go away after things loosened up. But it didn’t. And I was miserable. I couldn’t get into any comfortable position—not even lying down—without my back hurting. I couldn’t do anything that my life required me to do—picking up kids, unloading the dishwasher—without writhing in pain. Oh, and FORGET about running.

Postpartum back pain & back pain during pregnancy 

This was not my first experience with back pain as a mom. I had sciatica during pregnancy and back pain postpartum. I had chronic back pain when breastfeeding and when my kids were of carrying age.

Back pain during pregnancy is really common, especially sciatica during pregnancy. I’m sure many of you reading this have been in similar situations. After all, we mother runners, are mama strong. We cart heavy kids around on each hip without thinking twice about the strain we’re putting on our bodies and how amazing they are to keep doing this again and again. It’s quite remarkable really.

Sciatica during pregnancy

Back pain and motherhood start early on in the womb. Many pregnant women suffer from sciatica—irritation of the sciatic nerve which runs from your spinal cord down through your buttocks and backs of legs.

Why does my sciatic nerve hurt while pregnant?

Women tend to get sciatica during pregnancy because the growing baby puts pressure on the sciatic nerve causing inflammation and irritation. The hallmark pain runs down the back of your legs and sometimes feels like tingling or pins and needles.

Does sciatica go away on its own during pregnancy?

Sciatica during pregnancy is likely to worsen as your baby grows. Some women report relief as the baby switches positions in the uterus, but don’t count on it. Luckily, there are steps you can take to relieve back pain during pregnancy.

How to relieve sciatica during pregnancy

Running with Back Pain

Should you stop running if you have sciatica during pregnancy? That is the question! And, the answer is likely something you don’t want to hear: no.

Dr. Pagliano warns that if your back pain or sciatica is flaring up, it’s best not to run. “Because sciatica usually gets worse with movement, either backing up or pausing on your running may be a good option until it gets under control. You can’t always prevent or control these issues so be prepared with your expectations!”

If back pain or sciatica isn’t new to you, Dr. Pagliano says it is important to get it checked out by a physical therapist or chiropractor. “So many aches and pains like this in pregnancy are common but treatable! Many OB’s don’t know to refer for something as easy to address as sciatica.”

Getting this addressed sooner rather than later may help you stay more mobile longer.

Does running make back pain worse?

Most likely, yes. The compression movement of the spine caused by running is likely to worsen back pain. If you have back pain, it is best to decrease mileage or take a break until you’re feeling better. Instead, opt for lower impact activities like walking or the elliptical. Get other ideas for exercises to do with back pain here.

It is important to pay attention to what irritates your back pain. Physical therapist Joe Norton suggests, “If the pain is 8/10 and worsens immediately with walking, then you shouldn’t run. However, if the pain is 2/10 and feels better with standing or walking, then running may be safe.”

Does running help back pain?

Running does not help back pain but research does show that running can help prevent back pain. In a 2017 study, researchers found that the spinal disks of the runners were larger and contained more fluid — indicating more flexibility and less pain —  than the disks of the people who did not exercise.

Therefore, you can tell anti-runners to stop saying running is hard on the body. What is hard makes us stronger, right?

How to prevent back pain

6 Tips to Prevent Back Pain

Mind your movements.

It’s hard to stay balanced when you’re a mom in so many ways, including physically. If you have young children, chances are, one of them is riding on your hip at any given moment. Just being a mother, let alone a mother runner, is physically demanding. You’re constantly bending and lifting all day long. When you do this, do it smartly.

Warm-up and cool-down

Warming-up and cooling-down lower the risk of back sprains and strains in runners. The goal of a warm-up is to facilitate blood flow and allow the muscles time to acclimate to the motion of running. Cooling down can help to flush out the toxic metabolic breakdown products such as lactic acid, preventing soreness and injury.

Here’s how to warm-up and cool-down before running:

Strengthen your core.

Having a strong core is good for everything especially mothers, runners, and mother runners. It can make you a faster and stronger mama and ward off injuries. It’s tough to find time to work in strength training when most of any free time you have is spent running, but these key core exercises are easy to fit in and you can do them with your kids. Aim to do each 1-2 minutes 2-3 times a week.

Have proper foot support.

Flip flops are great, aren’t they? They’re quick and easy. No wasted time or energy bending over to put them on. You know what makes them not so great—actually terrible? They offer no support for your feet, back, or body as a whole. So, I urge you to stop wearing them.

Instead, invest in some comfortable, supportive shoes like Chacos, Birkenstocks, or just wear your running shoes. I cannot tell you how many times Mother Runners (myself included) have gotten injuries and niggles from not wearing supportive shoes in our day-to-day activities.

Get your sleep.

Many of us don’t think about how our sleeping positions can affect our backs, but they do. Many of us also find ourselves sharing beds with tiny nursing babes or crazy octopus-like children, contorting our bodies to give them their space. This can do damage.

I remember how my back ached every day my babies nursed. I was always hunched over in a chair or bed nursing not paying mind to my own comfort (or discomfort).

When sleeping, stick to the back or side position with a pillow between your legs to keep your spine straight and give support to your knees. When nursing, be sure to use a nursing pillow like the Boppy.

Follow a running program.

Following a running program or getting a coach can help you keep your running in check so that you don’t increase mileage or intensity too quickly. To ward off injuries when running aim to not add more than one variable (mileage, speed, or hills) at a time.

Also, have at least one full day of rest to allow your body to absorb the work and rebuild to a stronger version of itself.

When should you see a professional for back pain?

It’s a good idea to see a physical therapist or a chiropractor that you can trust if you don’t have relief after taking steps at home, says Dr. Pagliano.

“It is important to seek out care that will help you navigate the cause, help you with supportive exercises, and recommendations to stay active and as pain-free with daily activities as possible,” says Dr. Pagliano.

Much like being committed to improving running by adhering to a regular schedule, when injured you need to be committed to appropriate rest and not try to sneak back into the running schedule until you’re feeling better.

PS-I’d love to help you reach your running goals whether it be to run your first 5k or run competitively! Email me at whitney@themotherrunners.com with questions or check out my Coaching Services page!

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