I am a beginner at running and am training for a half marathon which is now only a few weeks away. About 2 weeks ago during my training, I had an onset of pain in my lower back that radiated down to my left leg. I wasn’t able to lift up my leg & run back home. I have been seeing a chiropractor for 3 sessions already; it seemed to help a little. I asked the chiropractor if I could continue to train, he told me to “listen to your body”. What is your advice on training from this point on?
– CINDY L.
My advice isn’t going to be much different from that of your chiropractor! Listening to your body is the best thing you can do as a runner, whether you’re injured or not. Only you know for sure how intense the pain is that you’re experiencing—and whether or not it’s so bad that it will continue to prevent you from training. If you can’t run because the pain radiating down your leg is so bad, I suggest experimenting with a few different forms of aerobic cross training as long as it doesn’t aggravate the injury (more on this in a bit).
From the sounds of it, your symptoms closely resemble those of sciatica, an irritation of the sciatic nerve which runs from your lower back all the way down to your toes. It can be a pain in the butt, quite literally, and will put a runner on the shelf for a long while if not addressed. By going to see your chiropractor for treatment, you’ve taken the proper steps to help start reversing the symptoms, and if you’ve already seen some improvement from those first few treatments, I’d continue doing so at least until your race. If you sit for a majority of the day, get up and move around at least once an hour and take a few minutes to give your back some relief, shake our your legs and foam roll your back or the back of your legs. And, if possible, try to get some soft tissue work in the form of deep tissue massage or Active Release treatment on the problem areas.
As for training, let pain be your gauge. If it hurts to run, don’t. But if you can swim, aqua jog, bike or “run” on the elliptical without experiencing any issues, then go for it. Try to replicate your running workouts as closely as possible in both duration and intensity when cross-training. Wearing a heartrate monitor is a good way to do this, but keep in mind your numbers will be a few beats per minute lower than when running. For a few examples of specific cross-training workouts for runners and advice on how maintain your hard-earned fitness while you’re overcoming an injury, check out this article.
Lastly, don’t lose faith in your fitness during these last few weeks before your race. You’ve (presumably) put in a lot of work until this unfortunate injury manifested itself from out of nowhere. Believe in your training, your treatment, and most importantly, yourself. Best of luck!
Ask Mario appears monthly in Competitor magazine and weekly on Competitor.com. Have a question for Mario? Submit it here.