Jogging & the Spine

Jogging & the Spine

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Appropriate footwear and jogging technique can help protect the spine.

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Jogging can be an effective way to maintain physical health and create a sense of well-being. It can also be done anywhere and is very affordable. Jogging doesn't have the same high-intensity reputation as running, but individuals with low-back pain or people recovering from back surgery might wonder whether jogging is potentially dangerous for the spine. Although jogging, like any physical activity, carries some risk, for most jogging won't lead to negative effects on the spine.

Low-Back Pain

Because jogging involves repetitive motion and impact, people with low-back pain might find that jogging aggravates sensitivity in the spine, according to Jogging can make low-back pain worse, and can also cause more serious problems such as sciatica, a condition involving leg pain, weakness and numbness. You might experience muscle spasms or pain centered along the lower back. Discontinue jogging if this occurs. Pain can be treated with rest, gentle stretching, ice packs, heat therapy or over-the-counter inflammation medications. If pain or spinal discomfort persists, see a doctor. If you're currently experiencing back pain, do not begin a jogging regimen without consulting your doctor.

Spine and Terrain

Different terrain affects the spine in different ways. For example, running on a softer surface, like a track, is preferable to pounding on hard pavement. Avoid hills, especially if you're just beginning to jog. If you'd like to incorporate some hill jogging, choose uphill over downhill. The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that downhill movements provide a greater range of motion for the spine compared to uphill grades. You can also recreate a jogging motion with less impact by using elliptical machines. These machines can be designed to move with the body, offering less resistance to avoid jarring the spine.

Don't Blame Jogging

Although jogging's physical demands can cause spinal or low-back discomfort, other factors unrelated to the activity might be the culprit, according to the Laser Spine Institute. Your overall fitness level, body type and other genetic factors might be contributing to spinal pain. Improper footwear could also be the problem, so wear well-padded shoes that aren't worn out. Keep shoulders and back muscles relaxed, and avoid holding yourself in an overly upright position. Avoid bouncing, and strengthen core and back muscles to protect the spine. Emory Healthcare warns that individuals should avoid pushing too hard or attempting jogging routines that might be too difficult in order to prevent injury.

Alternatives to Jogging

Protecting your spine takes precedence over beginning or maintaining a jogging routine. In particular, individuals with back complications such as a disc degenerative disease should avoid jogging. If you're looking for aerobic exercise, recommends a stair climber, elliptical machine or water aerobics.

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