Avoiding Runner's Chronic Back Pain: It's All in the Core

Biomechanical Simulation Spotlights Muscle Deficiency and How to Address It

A new study appearing in the Journal of Biomechanics has identified weak core muscles as a risk factor for the development of chronic back pain in runners. The research was conducted by a team from the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center using force measuring floor plates and motion detection technology to assess muscle movement during exercise. The team concludes that the problem of insufficient deep core muscle strength is a prevalent one, and that this weakness forces other muscles including abdominals to work harder, resulting in pain. Lead author Ajit Chaudhari, PhD, FACSM, associate professor of physical therapy and biomedical engineering at the Wexner Medical Center, commented, “When your deep core is weak, your body is able to compensate in a way that allows you to essentially run the same way. But that increases the load on your spine in a way that may lead to low back pain.”

The researchers used the measurement technology tools to create a computer simulation that could be altered to turn off selected muscles and observe how the body compensates. Many runners who are otherwise well conditioned are deficient in deep core strength, and Dr. Chaudhari noted that traditional abdominal exercises, including sit-ups and back extensions are not effective in addressing the deficiency. He points to core stabilization exercises such as planks as a better approach to avoiding back pain from running, observing that “Static exercises that force you to fire your core and hold your body in place are what’s really going to make you a better runner.”

Read a news story about the study findings.

The journal abstract may be read here.

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