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Spine Feature

Source: Wikimedia Commons and Maria Blanchard

Researchers Get to the ‘Core’ of Runners’ Back Pain

Biloine W. Young • Tue, January 16th, 2018

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Researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center wondered why runners, usually athletes in good physical condition, were getting painful backaches.

To find out researchers used a motion-capture system and pressure-sensitive plates that collected data while the participants ran around a track. The data was then used to create a 3D-model bones and muscles in a moving human body.

Prior to this study, very little was known about the causes of chronic and recurring back pain in runners, said study co-author Ajit Chaudhari, Ph.D., an associate professor of physical therapy, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and orthopedic surgery at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

They then manipulated the muscles to conduct "What if?" scenarios, such as "What if deep core muscles were weaker or absent—how would other muscles compensate to achieve the same movement?" Chaudhari toggling certain muscles on and off to simulate weaker performance, the researchers could detect where stresses would emerge on adjacent muscles and joints.

The models showed the different muscle groups which were at work during endurance running. The researchers learned that much of the back-supporting burden was carried by muscles in the body's deep core, rather than by the surface abdominal muscles.

This, alone, could explain why some runners experience back pain even though they faithfully perform exercises believed to build core strength.

Chaudhari explained that most of the research on running-related injuries focuses on the lower extremities. "What are we missing about how [the] whole body moves? Maybe it is the core. Because half of your body weight is in your upper body, how you control your core affects how you control that whole big mass up on top." That insight led the researchers to consider looking at what was happening in the core "in a more systematic, scientific way," he said.

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