We’re continuing with our series on running injuries – this month focusing on how to prevent lower back pain.
I want to welcome our new PT student Charlie Crockatt
Charlie is in his third and final year of Grand Valley State University’s doctorate of physical therapy program, and is with us until October for hands-on clinical experience. He grew up in Livonia Michigan, playing football and baseball for the Stevenson Spartans. After high school he completed his undergraduate work at Central Michigan University, studying athletic training. After graduation from PT school, he is interested in working with athletic populations of all ages and hopes to travel outside of Michigan. In his free time, he enjoys the outdoors and also plays drums for an indie rock band called Birdie Country.
Charlie will be a great fit at Elite PT and will be here through October 5th.
Running Injuries continued: Preventing Lower Back Pain
Unfortunately lower back pain is a frequent problem for runners especially as distances increase.
As you’ve learned from our previous articles on running injuries, having good joint mobility and flexibility are very important for injury prevention. When it comes to your lower back, the more mobile and flexible you are through the joints above and below – specifically ankles, hips, and thoracic spine – the better.
Another important consideration is core stability. I prefer to use the term ‘stability’ over the more common term ‘strength’ because that’s really what we are after. Stability, in this case, is the ability of the muscles of the trunk to maintain a safe position of the joints of the spine while you alternately swing your arms and legs to run. In simpler terms: to keep your lower back relatively still while the rest of you moves.
One of the best ways to train for stability is to use a variety of plank exercises to challenge the various muscle groups on the front, back, and sides of the trunk. These are known as Bunke Planks and are pictured below:
Use a small box or chair approximately 12-18″ high (the higher it gets the easier it tends to get).
These exercises were introduced a few years back as a way of developing stability and endurance through the trunk muscles but also to compare how stable a runner was right to left. Everything is done on one leg and compared to the opposite side. Competitive runners should be able to hold each position 40 seconds at a minimum on each leg. Asymmetries right to left (i.e. hold on left leg 40 seconds but only 25 seconds on the right) was thought to put runners at a substantially higher risk of injury. Not being able to hold the full 40 seconds was not as big a deal but still thought to increase risk of injury.
So that’s the quick and dirty history of the Bunke Planks in one paragraph. Competitive runners should be able to hold each plank 40 seconds on each leg in each position. This can be very challenging, and very eye opening as some folks think they are quite ‘strong’ through their core until they try these!
For the rest of us, these planks can be very difficult and in some cases way to advanced. Luckily there are a number of regressions possible that can be used to build up stability and endurance and maybe eventually work up to the full blown Bunke plank.
The easiest thing to do in some cases is just to do the plank in the pictures on both legs and work up to 40 seconds before trying to lift a leg.
From there alternate lifting legs up to 10 reps each leg. You will only be holding a few seconds each leg before switching to the other. If your on your side you would lift the top or bottom leg 10 time then switch sides.
The next step would be to start working in longer holds.
The shoulders can often be limiting factors in performing the Bunke planks – here are some regressions to take the shoulders out completely or at least to decrease the total amount of body weight you must hold up:
Side Plank (from the knees)
Front Planks (from the knees)
If you have any questions at all or are suffering from lower back pain feel free to email me: Joe@elitepttc.com
Keep running and stay healthy!