Why even super-fit runners get this pain problem


  • New USA study reveals ‘deep’ hidden cause of pain
  • Why even fit and sporty people get severe pain because of problems with how a certain group of muscles work
  • Core Muscles Exercises that could help treat backache and other problems the doctor cannot solve

Crikey, my back hurts.

I’m not sure what happened over Christmas, but I crawled into 2018 with agonising pain.

What’s weird is that it was the first time in ages I took a week away from the computer, which I usually blame for any pain woes.

But more likely, it’s because I stopped doing a certain type of exercise that I’m going to show you.

As you might recall from my email last November, I suffer from bouts of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Here’s my account of the problem:

After lots of pointless exercises in which I had to twist my wrists around a lot every night, the RSI turned out to be a problem located in my back.

It was only when I started doing Pilates about 8 years ago I discovered that the knee pain and RSI that had plagued me in my 30s was down to awful posture (too much sitting, craning at a computer, and nervous, tense shoulders).

What’s more, that bad posture was down to certain muscles not working properly.

The root cause was, in fact, a very small group of muscles that you can’t really see, and many of us don’t even know are there.

They had been ‘switched’ off by neglect.

And after years this took its toll, even on my relatively young body. Never mind what it does to people after decades of this!

So if you’re suffering from pains that the doctor is a bit baffled about, or that you simply cannot shake, no matter what you try, then this might interest you.

Could this be the hidden cause of YOUR pain?

A newly released study in the Journal of Biomechanics on 3rd January has looked into chronic back pain in runners.

It found that runners with weak deep core muscles where much more at risk of getting lower back pain.

The core muscles aren’t the ones that get “ripped” when you go to the gym or do 100 sit-ups every day. They’re not the fancy external muscles that you ‘crunch’ or that models show off on golden Florida beaches.

They’re the deep muscles that are the powerhouse behind all your movements. They keep your body stable and ensure all the moving parts are working in synch.

These include…

• Transversus Abdominis – this is a muscle that works like a corset around your spine and pelvis. It tightens to guard your spinal joints, ligaments, discs and nerves as you move around.

• Pelvic Floor & Diaphragm Muscles – these work together to keep your lumbar spine supported and in synch with your pelvic floor.

• Multifidus Muscles – these are short muscles aiding back stability, fine-tuning your postural movements.

The new USA study concludes that, for most of us, these ‘deep core muscles’ aren’t strong enough to keep our skeletons working as they should. And this is a cause of a lot of unexplained, or misdiagnosed, chronic pain.

See, when your core muscles are weak, they force other muscles to work harder. These include the famous ‘abs’ which look nice but don’t really stabilise your body.

They are sometimes known as ‘superficial muscles’ which tells you all need to know.

When abs and other muscles are forced to take responsibility for your posture, things start to go awry.

They’re just not up to the job, long-term.

It’s not what they’re designed for.

Meanwhile, you have these hidden core muscles just screaming out for a proper job, and yet the longer they stay dormant, the less they can do to help.

This is why a super-fit ‘ripped’ athlete might still have weak core muscles and get terrible pain issues.

Of course, this applies to everyone, not just athletes.

If you have weak core muscles then every time you walk, sit, or do exercise, you’re pushing the responsibility for stabilising your posture onto the wrong muscles. Over time, this affects your ligaments, joints, spine and nerves.

Yet you’d be surprised at how easy it is to correct this.

Give a proper job to your sad core muscles!

I was talking to my very experienced Pilate teacher about this yesterday and he told me this.

“Your core muscles WANT to do the job they’re designed for. And your superficial muscles WANT to give up the job they’ve been lumbered with. You just need to wake up your core muscles, give them the right job, and your whole body will respond with delight and relief.”

In other words, you don’t need to build up your core muscles with lots of pumping iron and sit-ups.

They just need to be activated… reminded of their job… then you need to get in the habit of using them, until it becomes a conscious act every time you move around.

Meanwhile the other superficial muscle can relax and do the lighter jobs more effectively too – they come into play as and when they are needed, rather than being on duty 24/7.

One way of doing this is to try Pilates of course.

My problem was that December was so busy with work, social life, kids and shopping that I didn’t go to Pilates at all, and some of my old twinges came back.

But I agree that it can be expensive, time-consuming and intimidating for some.

Another option is to go and see a physiotherapist and ask them to give you basic exercises for your core muscles. Or you can look up some videos on YouTube by typing ‘deep core muscles’, although refer to a physio or medical professional before you do anything too strenuous.

Please ignore the body builder stuff you might find. You’re looking for gentle exercises that don’t require much effort and can be done lying down or sitting.

For instance, the easiest things to try are pelvic floor exercises. If you’ve ever been pregnant this is something you’ll possibly know how to do.

Here’s an NHS sheet that explains some of the basics: Pelvic floor exercises

As a useful side benefit, these exercises can help with incontinence and problems with sexual performance!

Anyway, see how you get on – it could be the beginning of a journey to less chronic pain.

Until next time, stay pain-free!


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