Training Tips

Runner’s Advice from the Chiropractor

Getting to the Core of the Problem

by Meghan Dukes, DC, MSPT, Kaiser Permanente Centers for Complementary Medicine Chiropractic Physician

One of the most common questions I get from runners is which stretches they should be doing to keep their backs healthy. With all of the different muscle groups involved, everyone has a different idea of what works best. In a time when statistics show close to 85% of the population will experience back pain over the course of their lives, it doesn’t surprise me that there is so much conflicting information floating around. By now, most of us are aware of the fact that keeping your core muscles strong is important to maintain a healthy back, but how does flexibility work into the equation?

The main function of our core is to keep our torsos balanced and stable with daily activities letting the bigger muscle groups in the arms and legs do the majority of the movement. When it comes to running, the big muscle groups we use most of the time are the quadriceps in the front of the thigh and the hamstrings in back. We’ve all seen the traditional stretches for these two areas, but to really keep our backs healthy with all levels of activity, we need to go a little deeper.

The smaller, deeper muscles of the hip are some of the most important to keep flexible with the strains of running. The largest of these, the Iliopsoas, or hip flexor, is one of the most frequently overlooked culprits when it comes to running related back pain. Without proper stretching of this area, it can tighten up when fatigued and put a lot of extra tension through the low back. A simple standing or kneeling lunge stretch does a good job of loosening up the front part of the hip and does wonders for taking stress off of the lumbar spine.

The other two muscles we can’t forget when it comes to a runner’s flexibility are the Gluteal muscles and the Tensor Fascia Latta (TFL). Both of these control rotation through the hips and can mimic both knee pain and sciatic-type leg pain when they get irritated. Standing or seated cross-legged stretches work really well for this region.

If static stretching isn’t your cup of tea; however, a great addition to any runner’s bag of tricks is a foam roller. Available at any sporting goods store, these simple tools do a great job at working out the short, deep muscles around the hips and low back. Most come with easy to follow pictures of how to best work on each muscle group keeping you loose and balanced through all phases of your training.

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