Relieving Back Pain in Runners (via Another Mother Runner)

Running can be a real pain in the back. Nobody wants to have to take a day off of running because it’s too painful, but all too often that’s what happens. Thankfully Sarah Bowen Shea from Another Mother Runner has all the answers you need to relieve the pain!

You know your back pain is bad when…you ask your physical therapist, whom you’re seeing to rehab a fractured-in-four-places ankle, to help you with your back instead of your been-busted ankle.

A bit of background on my sore back: It started bothering me late last winter. The upper-left quadrant of my back felt clenched like a fist, around my shoulder blade. Then my left forearm and sometimes hand would get pins and needles. In my typical ignore-it-until-it-goes-away fashion, I,well, ignored it. The pain and tingling disappeared while I was laid up with my fractured ankle. (Silver lining!)

The pain returned in September. No more tingling; instead I had a fair bit of pain in my forearm, especially near my elbow. My back pain was more severe, too, migrating up toward my lats and gripping much harder than before. The pain would flare up several times during the day, forcing me to stop typing and shake my arm out. The only time I was ever pain free was immediately upon waking, when it seemed as if my overly constricted muscles had (finally) relaxed overnight. I started taking prescription painkillers that had languished in our medicine cabinet during my ankle ordeal; I was extra-cranky toward my kids.

I thought the pain might be caused by my poor form during arm/shoulder work in barre class, so I switched to lighter weights. Then I blamed planks, so I modified that move in class, too. Perhaps it was running, so I consciously tried to relax my upper body during the miles. No improvement or pain abatement.

Finally I mentioned it to my physical therapist, Ellen. Hearing the concern in her voice made me sit up and take notice: My head started to spin as she talked about pinched nerves, lasting repercussions, and other scare-me effects. Turns out I have really tight shoulders and very inflexible upper spine. (Not news to me, but they never caused me problems before.) Ellen suggested some very simple exercises with a foam roller that would help me open up those problem areas, hopefully alleviating the constriction.

Enter a TriggerPoint Therapy GRID 2.0. This 26″ long foam roller is my new BFF, and I eagerly greet it every morning. I set my alarm five minutes early to allow myself to do a few simple movements on it while I listen to the morning news. The first “move” involves no movement at all, simply laying on the floor with the roller positioned vertically under my spine. I rest my hands on the floor, and gravity works its magic, opening up my shoulder and chest.

Next I turn the GRID 2.0 horizontal under my shoulder blades. I try my best to curve my upper back toward the floor, supporting my head in my hands. The three-dimensional surface of the GRID 2.0 lets knobby bits of foam (uh, not a technical term!) apply additional pressure to tight muscles. I roll the GRID 2.0 up my back slightly, and curve toward the floor some more. Keeping my hands under my head and my elbows sticking out, I twist a bit to get the knobby bits pressing more into the side of my lats. I roll back and forth for at least one NPR story.

The release I feel is immediate, partly due to increased blood flow. (The upper left quadrant of my back is flushed red after rolling.) And, after about two dedicated weeks of morning (and sometimes evening) rolling, my pain is almost gone. Even after a 2-hour bike ride on Saturday (hello, hunching!) and Sunday’s 7-miler, I didn’t experience any pain or tingling. While I’m now patting myself on the back for my daily roll-sessions, I’m also kicking myself for not taking rehab-matters into my own hands (and roller) sooner.

Visit the original blog post to read how this advice has helped other readers of Another Mother Runner and get a discount on foam roller products!


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