Lower back pain, which often results from weak deep core muscles, isn’t uncommon in runners. Here’s what you can do to address the source of your pain and get back to pounding the pavement.

Running is one of the world’s most popular forms of exercise, captivating casual joggers, gym buffs, and long-distance runners alike. Behind its widespread appeal and accessibility lies a range of health benefits, from increasing cardiovascular fitness to improving happiness.

Like any high-impact sport, however, running does come with some drawbacks. In particular, many runners may find themselves more susceptible to lower back pain.

Since the back is a complex network of bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments, the exact source of this pain can be unclear. A new study published in the Journal of Biomechanics, however, pinpoints the most likely culprit: weak muscles in the deep core. When the deep core muscles are weak, the body compensates by forcing other muscles, especially the abs, to work harder. As a result, these inner muscles become overworked and fatigued, placing greater stress on the spine — which can ultimately lead to lower back pain.

Addressing the Source of Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is one of the most common problems treated by orthopedic specialists — indeed, nearly everyone experiences it at some point in their lives, whether from running or simply from sitting in an uncomfortable desk chair at work. In addition to weak deep core muscles, it’s often caused by arthritis, compression fractures, herniated spinal discs, and lumbar spinal stenosis. In many patients, it’s a product of some combination of these issues.

Treatment for lower back pain largely depends on its cause. In many cases, back pain can resolve on its own within a few weeks, but since it can be quite debilitating and contribute to other musculoskeletal problems, it’s always advisable to consult an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible to develop an appropriate course of treatment.

Most sources of lower back pain respond well to conservative treatments designed to stretch and strengthen muscles (especially those of the deep core), reduce strain on the spine, and eliminate inflammation.

These treatment options include:

In addition, some patients struggling with particularly severe and persistent pain may need surgical intervention to enjoy lasting relief. Should surgery be necessary, your doctor will refer you to an orthopedic surgeon who can perform the procedure and devise a specialized rehabilitation plan.

Dr. Mizhiritsky is the co-founder of New York Bone & Joint Specialists. He specializes in the conservative and non-operative treatment of spine, neck and back pains, sciatica, pinched nerves, muscle spasms, and all joint pains. Dr. Mizhiritsky is affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital and has been named a Top Physician by Consumers’ Research Council of America for many consecutive years.