Ask the physio

How can sitting at a desk all day affect my running?


by Paul Hobrough

QHow can sitting at a desk all day affect my running?

Kellie Moss, via email

It can lead to back trouble. I receive many emails from the running community relating to lower back pain. Sitting at a desk all day puts you into a position of around 90 degrees of hip flexion for long periods. You might also drive a car or sit on a train in the same position to get to and from work. And you sit down for lunch and dinner, and then relax on the sofa in the evening – this means you spend 70-80 per cent of your day with your hips at around 90 degrees of flexion. 

Runners then expect to be able to jump up from the computer and run, perhaps with a moderate warm-up beforehand. This is possible, of course, but consider the position those hip flexors are in for most of the day – shortened and required to support your posture. It’s understandable that they might then protest when suddenly asked to control a leg extending backwards as you toe off for your lunchtime or evening run.  

The hip flexor (or iliopsoas, made up of the psoas and iliacus muscles) originates from the lumbar spine and travels down to the front of the hip, attaching to the top of the femur (thigh bone), so during the running cycle it can become overstretched, placing pressure on the lower back. 

Your running technique requires you to put your hip into at least 25 degrees of extension, which means it’s travelling 115 degrees back from its usual position of being flexed to 90 degrees – and doing so at speed. 

So if you are a desk worker who likes to get out and run as quickly as possible after work, it’s possible your back pain could be as a result of chronically tight hip flexors and a poor warm-up/mobility routine. 

The fix

Spend a bit of time before a run increasing your hip movement with gentle swings back and forth. Stretch your quads and your hip flexors. Take regular breaks from your desk and do some lunges to help develop range of motion and build strength. 

Strengthen your core

If you are experiencing pain in your lower back, it is already showing signs of weakness. Strengthen your core
at a low level, switching on the small transverse abdominis muscles by lying on your back with your knees bent and activating your pelvic floor. Place your fingers just inside the pelvic bones either side of your belly button and cough to feel the muscles bouncing under your fingertips. Tense these muscles by imagining you are stopping yourself from going to the toilet mid-flow. Draw in your belly button and flatten your back arch towards the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Do 10 reps. 

Develop this over the weeks with less knee bend, and edging your feet further and further away from you. Make this even harder by alternately lifting your feet an inch from the floor or dropping a knee out to the side. 

After a few weeks you should notice your back aches less and also your stride length may improve. 


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back pain, running with back back, back pain in runners, how to cure back pain, physio, running physio
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