Hip and back pain in runners

Dealing with hip and lower-back back pain

Whilst beginner runners often experience lower leg injuries, hip and lower back pain are more often experienced by runners looking to increase the mileage and intensity of their training. Hip and back injuries can be debilitating but are generally both preventable and treatable.

Hip and lower-back pain tends to occur in runners after the beginning stages of a training program, when the mileage and intensity increases.

Hip and back pain in runners can be attributed to several possible causes, including:

  • A strain in the hip flexors
  • A tightening of the piriformis (hip muscle) during a run
  • Lumbar sprain
  • A stress fracture

Strain in the hip flexors

As your running training intensifies, the hip flexors (the muscles that lift or 'flex' your thighs when running) can become overworked, in which case fatigue will set in and pain will follow.

Solution: Although painful and initially debilitating, this injury is typically not serious and responds rapidly to rest from running, ice and stretching.

Tightening of the piriformis

Deep muscular hip pain is a common occurrence in runners trying to increase their mileage and may be attributed to a tightening of the lesser known hip muscle: the piriformis. As the piriformis is situated near a major nerve in the leg, any tightening can put pressure on that nerve causing pain in your hip during running.

Solution: Action can be taken to reduce tightness through applying deep pressure to the muscle and a regular stretching program around your running routine.

Lumbar sprain

Nothing is more annoying to runners than lower-back pain. The majority of lower-back pain cases in runners are due to lumbar sprain. As there is no test to diagnose lumbar sprain, the rule of thumb with this condition is to do what you are capable of.

Solution: Walking and very gentle stretching can be beneficial along with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which can help in the short term, although you need to consult your doctor first.

Stress fractures

Stress fractures can occur in the hip, pelvis or thigh — the underlying cause being the repetitive impact of the ground against the bone. The classic symptom of this injury is pain that worsens while running and is relieved with rest.

Solution: Treatment, depending on location and severity of the injury usually consists of no running for four to six weeks, then a gradual return to jogging.

If you suffer a hip or lower back injury, the good news is that the problem can be remedied, provided a well-planned rehabilitation program is in place. You must seek professional advice at the earliest available opportunity to minimize the chances of a long-term injury.

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