I made the mistake of over-doing yard work last weekend and ended up with severe lower back pain this week, to the point that I could barely move. The trouble is, I have my first half marathon next Sunday. I've been training for it for months and have been doing really well. My last long run was a 10-minute per mile 14 mile run, and I was doing a lot of hill and speed work. I was finally feeling confident about my race right before my back injury. I've been icing and stretching my back aggressively, and my back is much better today, and I think I can try to run again tomorrow. But I've lost the last week in running and am not even sure how much I can handle on my run tomorrow. This next week should be my taper week but I'm afraid that I've lost too much stamina and strength this past week of not running and wonder if I should have a less relaxing taper. I had planned on three middle-distance runs (4-7 miles) Tuesday to Thursday, then no running for 2 days before the race. Assuming my back is able to handle the training, how hard should I train this next week? Any advice with regard to my next week of running as well as caring for my back would be much appreciated.
Unless you have a history of documented back injuries, I'm not so sure it was your back that was injured. Yard work can be extremely taxing on all core muscles, particularly the group that holds the top and bottom halves of your body together, which are the gluteals and quadratus lumborum on either side of the pelvic crest. The pain feels like it is coming from somewhere in the lower back because it is, if you count these muscles on either side of the lumbar and sacral spine.
I once signed up for a 15k and hurt my "back" the week before the race. I could hardly get up from bed at first, and progressed only to being able to stand up half way. I could not stand up straight, and saw a massage therapist at the expo the day before gun time. I plunked down 30 bucks and asked if she could fix me. She said she was only supposed to do light work, but said she would try. She worked the area above and around my sacrum until my eyes teared up. I got up feeling beat, but stood straight the next morning. and ran my race without a problem. The pain had vanished.
I was impressed enough by the experience that I now do the same kind of work for a living. I see many "bad backs" each day, and I can tell you that 9 out of ten times, there is core muscle instability going along with it. Either the hip flexors (from too much running or sitting), glutes (sitting, standing), abs (from too many situps), or hip rotators (sitting, laying wrong and various causes), or Quadratus (pulling, reaching, raking), are likely to be involved. Unfortunately, x-rays show none of this. Even when spinal irregularity is seen, the lower back pain often stems from these muscle groups, without which the back has no support at all.
I wouldn't fear the week off. Many times people overtrain for their events anyway. The rest may actually speed you up. Unless you have prize money at stake, I wouldn't risk aggravating any of these tired, possibly overtrained muscles with anything more than your normal taper. You can't get back the value of work that you lost by sacrificing your recovery. As long as you get some attention paid to that back problem, and don't leave your race in your training shoes, you should do just fine. Worked for me!
Shaun, at this point you probably have done more than enough training for the half marathon. Ease back into the running, don't force the issue. Don't worry so much about putting in long miles this week, just focus on your posture, running form,etc. The half is more mental than physical (to me) and once you get started, I think you will be able to do ok. Get into a good running rhythm, don't try to set any PR's for this race. Your main goal should be to COMPLETE the race (then get a nice MASSAGE).
Good luck! P.S. I guess you would have finshed the race by the time you get this message but good luck anyway.
In my experience rarely is back pain caused by running. A frequent story I hear from patients "I ran a marathon and my back went out". I ask how did you do in the marathon, and the answer is I set a personal record, but when I got out of the car after the 6 hour car ride home my back went out. It is not running that contributes to back pain is what you do after running. The most frequent contributing factor for back and sciatic pain is sitting. Back pain is a sitting injury. Pay attention to how you sit, sit less. Guidlines for treatment of back pain is to encourage walking early. Get on your feet stay off your butt. Take a look at this short article Pain in the Buttock.
Damien Howell PT, DPT, OCS - www.damienhowellpt.com
Thanks for the helpful comments and the encouragement. I am only a little sore now and running well again I think a lot of it was tight muscles, and sitting definitely aggravated it. I was avoiding sitting as much as I could, but can't avoid the hour-long commute to work every day. Still, since I started running again on Sunday, my back is definitely much looser and I've been having a few good runs. The race is this upcoming Sunday, so thanks for the good wishes! And I WILL get a good massage afterwards!