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The Connection Between Running and Low Back Pain: Explained

Learn how running can improve the health of your back and prevent future back injuries.

Low back pain is a prevalent condition affecting millions of individuals worldwide. Up to 80% of the population will experience this type of pain at some point in their life. The reason we experience low back pain can vary greatly, however, one culprit that has been scrutinized for its potential association with low back pain is RUNNING.

Many running athletes who experience low back pain during training often contribute their run distance as a possible culprit, not the many other possible factors: core weakness, leg muscle imbalance, poor flexibility, and overtraining. 

Belavý et al. conducted a study, on both men and women, in 2017 to examine the impact of running exercise on lumbar disc health. They compared the lumbar discs of long-distance runners, joggers, and non-athletic individuals using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Long Distance Runners: >31 running miles per week (>50km)

Joggers: 12-25 running miles per week (20-40 km)

Non-Athletic: No purposeful movement during a week.

The researchers took measurements of water content and hydration status in tissues between the vertebral body, which can provide insights into tissue health. The study found that both long-distance runners and joggers exhibited significantly healthier discs compared to non-athletic individuals.

Contrary to common beliefs, the findings of this study suggest that running exercise may actually have a growth effect on lumbar disc health. The increased hydration and growth observed in the lumbar disc of runners indicate potential strengthening and resilience of these structures. This contradicts the notion that running inherently leads to degeneration or injury of the lumbar spine.

Rather than being detrimental to lumbar health, running exercise appears to strengthen the intervertebral discs, potentially reducing the risk of low back pain.

General Low Back Stiffness and Pain Guidelines:

  • If you are experiencing low back pain and it is preventing you from running or even exercising, there are steps to take:
  • If you have burning or radiating pain down your legs you need to follow up with a medical professional. The longer your symptoms last, the more time 
  • If you have pain central across the low back, here are some general guidelines to decreased stiffness and discomfort:
  • Determine what makes the symptoms better or worse. Sometimes standing or laying down makes the symptoms lessen. Often times, sitting or laying down with your knees bent will help decrease the low back symptoms.

General Low Back Exercises:


The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Anyone considering starting a running program to prevent or alleviate low back pain should consult with a physician or qualified healthcare professional first. This ensures that the exercise regimen is tailored to individual health needs and is safe to undertake. Prioritizing personal health and safety by seeking medical guidance before initiating any new exercise routine is essential.


Belavý DL, Quittner MJ, Ridgers N, Ling Y, Connell D, Rantalainen T. Running exercise strengthens the intervertebral disc. Sci Rep. 2017 Apr 19;7:45975. doi: 10.1038/srep45975. PMID: 28422125; PMCID: PMC5396190


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