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For a long time running has received a lot of bad press with regards to its relationship with back pain and other “wear and tear” injuries such as knee osteoarthritis.
It does seem to make logical sense that the cumulative effects of high intensity activity, where forces of up to four times the normal body weight are driven through the joints of the body, would have a detrimental effect on those joints. It is certainly a theme that sports shoe companies have perpetuated and made billions from each time they advertise their latest advance in shock absorbing footwear, be it airTM gelTM or even the – you couldn’t make up if you tried – BioMoGoTM – not sure what happened to that.
The concept that “high impact” equals “bad” is certainly one that has penetrated the mindset of many of the patients that I see. Many of these patients I see as an Osteopath, who frequently have back pain of some sort, have either stopped running as a result or are considering changing the type of activity they do.
My response to these patients is on several levels.
The first is that maintaining some sort of activity when suffering back pain is vital. Both for the recovery and rehabilitation of the current injury and for the prevention of further injury.
Secondly, notwithstanding the common consensus and the logical connection, there is little quality evidence to suggest that running is bad for backs (or knees or ankles for that matter). In fact there is a growing body of research and knowledge that suggests the complete opposite. It is a counterintuitive position that reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H. L. Mencken
It is a growing belief that running is in no way detrimental to the health of joints and the spine and in fact may enhance spinal health. A report of research conducted by Deakin University published just this month online at www.nature.comadds weight to this argument.
This is perhaps the first scientific evidence that exercise can be beneficial for the intervertabral disc (IVD) in the spine. This research identified that running programs, over extended periods of time, had positive effects on the composition of the disc. It also showed that higher intensity activity such as fast walking and slow running had more positive effects than slow walking or static positions.
If you are currently suffering back pain, this is not a recommendation to throw the shoes on (even if they are BioMoGoTM equipped) and go out for a run. You should always make these decisions in consultation with your Osteopath or Physio.
What this research does do (and it is certainly not conclusive evidence at this point), is give us reason to change the way we look at moderating our activity with the long term view to preventing spinal injury and back pain. We will keep abreast of what changes this and similar research directs the way we do things. Until then keep running, keep moving and enjoy yourself.
About the Author.
Travis Bateman is an Osteopath, trail runner, mountain biker, habitual back of the pack finisher and founder of Camberwell Sports & Spinal Medicine. His clinical interest is in movement analysis and its relationship to injury, pain and sports performance.
Belavý, D. L. et al. Running exercise strengthens the intervertebral disc. Sci. Rep. 7, 45975; doi: 10.1038/srep45975 (2017).
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