There are a number of causes of running injuries, including overtraining, bad form, muscle imbalances and weakness. One of the best ways to prevent running injuries is to develop a strong, balanced core.
The core muscle group consists of muscles in the pelvis, buttocks, lower back and stomach. The deeper muscles of this group, like the transversus abdominis and the gluteus medius, are charged with a most important task: stabilization. The muscles people usually focus on when strength training are “mover” muscles; they cause motion. While these larger muscles are certainly important, they often overshadow the crucial role deeper stabilizer muscles play. Stabilizer muscles are responsible for resisting motion; they keep the body aligned and stable as it performs movement.
Stabilization is key to preventing injuries, since a lack of spinal and pelvic stability lead to biomechanical problems throughout the body. When you run, your legs work hard to propel the body forward and your upper body works hard to stay upright. The connection between the upper and lower body is the pelvis. Core muscles must work together to ensure that the legs move properly and the upper body is held upright, and this requires a stable pelvis. Spinal instability caused by weak core muscles in the back and stomach can lead to disc degeneration. Without core strength and balance, the following injuries are more likely to occur.
Lower Back Strain/Injury
Another concern associated with weak multifidus and/or transversus abdominis muscles is spinal injury. The spinal discs between vertebrae absorb the shock that the spine is subjected to. Without strong muscles to support the spine, discs are overtaxed and can degenerate, bulge or herniate.
IT Band Syndrome
The iliotibial (IT) band runs from the hip to the knee on the outside of the leg. It connects at the hip to the tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscle. This muscle can become tight when the gluteus medius, a pelvic stabilizer muscle, is weak, since the TFL will compensate for its actions. Tightening of the TFL causes the IT band to tighten as well. This can lead to pain and inflammation, particularly at the knee and hip.
A tight IT band can also cause a condition called overpronation which occurs when the ankle rolls inward upon weight-bearing. This is due to the upward pull the tight band exerts on the knee. Overpronation can lead to ankle, knee and hip joint injuries as well as back pain. Developing a strong gluteus medius is part of a balanced core workout and will help prevent IT band and pronation problems.
Hip Flexor Syndrome
The psoas muscles run from the upper thigh bone to the lumbar spine on each side of the body. These muscles work primarily to flex the hip. Hip flexors become tight in a couple ways. The muscles are held in a shortened position when we sit. Since modern culture revolves around sitting – at a computer, in the office, at school, while commuting – it would not be surprising to find that your hip flexors are tight. Another way this can occur is if your transversus abdominis muscles are weak. These muscles attach at the pelvis and are meant to play a role in pelvic stabilization as well as spinal stabilization. If they fail to play this role, the hip flexors may be called on to compensate.
Tight hip flexors can lead to pain in the groin area and lower abdomen. They also cause lower back pain, since they pull downward on the front of the pelvis and cause an increased arch in the lumbar spine. This compresses the lower back muscles, leading to tightness.
These injuries can be avoided by developing a strong and balanced core, with a focus on the deep stabilizer muscles. The average “6-pack” workout only addresses the superficial abdominal muscles. Your workout will be more functional if you pick core exercises that work a number of deep core muscles at once; this not only builds strength and balance, but also encourages proper neurological recruitment of muscles that are meant to work together. See Four Back Pain Relief Exercises for a well-rounded core workout program consisting of 4 exercises.
Preventing runner back pain and other conditions often revolves around the core. Set yourself up to run far and long by taking care of your body.