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What Causes Neck Pain for Runners

Some common muscle soreness or injuries for runners are runners knee, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, Achilles, calves. But we can also feel some upper body soreness and tightness, especially after long distance or hard runs. While running, the body focuses primarily of the lower body muscles while running, but the upper body is also part of the engaged muscles. The upper body muscles include the pectoral muscles (front chest), biceps in the arm swing, and the deltoids (shoulder muscles).

For runners, one part of the upper body that is often affected from tightness is the neck. Especially for trail runners who have to constantly focus on the technical trail, which causes the head to lean down for a long time, and also carrying a heavy hydrapack.

For many runners, road or trail runners or combined runs can have many neck pain issues, which can be caused by other issues than running as well.

What Can Cause Neck Pain

1. Weak Posture

One of the most common causes of neck pain while running is due to poor posture. This is not only during running but during other activities as well.

It is very common for runners who work long hours sitting at a desk and working on a computer.

Being behind a desk often requires sitting with the head forward, chin down, and back arched. This weak posture, known as forward head posture, will affect our running form.

The weak posture can indirectly contribute to neck and shoulder pain, specifically irritate our cervical spine indirectly by changing the centre of gravity.

How to Prevent

  • To prevent weak posture, try running with a neutral neck, a position in which all muscles are working ideally to prevent loading and the impact. In fact, we should be maintaining this posture no matter what exercise you’re doing.

  • Our head should be balanced directly over our spine, making sure it’s not hunched over or leaning forward to one side or the other.

2. Clenching Your Fists

Clenching your fists while running creates tension that moves up your forearm and upper arm and into your trapezius muscle and neck.

The more kilometres you log in, the more stress and strain you produce in your arms. Also, don’t forget about the bouncing and impact factor.

Performing too much kms, this tension can cause drastic stress on the arms, shoulders, and neck, which impacts how we run.

How to Prevent

  • If we start feeling tensed up in the shoulders or the neck while running, we need to try and relax our hands and let them hang softly.

3. Staring Down At The Ground

Although the eyes are not talked about much when it comes to running technique, the rest of our body will follow our gaze. Looking down flexes our neck as well. This causes all sorts of troubles not only in our upper body but in our hips and knees as well.

How to Prevent

  • To prevent this, we need to tuck our chin in and keep our view up toward the horizon while running. By doing this, our body will be directed according to our view and gazing line.

4. Excessive Pumping of the Arms

Keeping a proper arm motion is key to our running form. When we excessively move our arms, it might cause more strain on our shoulders and neck. Again, this can also cause neck and shoulder pain while running. It’s also a major waster of energy.

How to Prevent

  • To prevent excessive arm pumping while running, we need to try pulling our shoulders down and back and curving our arms at a 90-degree angle.

  • Then, to keep pumping our arms forward and backward from the shoulders.

  • We need to keep the movement smooth, loose, but in control. Keep in mind that the movement is taking place at your shoulder, not your elbow.

5. The Body is Dehydrated

Very surprising that dehydration is a common culprit of both neck stiffness and neck pain.

When our body is dehydrated, our muscles, ligaments, and tendons get tighter, which can lead to neck pain. Dehydration can also cause a headache. This causes tension, and most of it builds up in the neck and shoulders.

Staying well-hydrated can help prevent cervical disc degeneration, which is a common cause of neck pain. Our spine discs consist mostly of water and collagen.

Drinking enough water keeps the discs between our spine’s vertebrae well lubricated, the key for maintaining disc height and spinal alignment.

How to Prevent

  • For proper hydration, we need to consume electrolytes or sports drinks during longer runs, or during hot weather. Also, if we feel very dehydrated post-run, we need to consume some electrolytes for recovery.

  • We also need to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This should help keep our body well hydrated not only during our runs, but throughout the day.

  • Running in the morning, we are more likely to wake up lacking fluid, so to hydrate before we start running is important. Make sure you check your urine colour as a standard hydration check.

  • For runs exceeding one hour, we need to have access to water and electrolytes. This is especially the case if we’re running in hot and/or humid conditions.

6. A Running/Athletic Injury

Another culprit behind neck pain while running is when you have actually hurt your neck, or the muscles and joints surrounding it, while doing something else.

This can be an acute injury such as lifting a heavy object or throwing a ball or overuse injury while sitting or working for long hours in bad posture in front of a computer.

How to Prevent

  • Keeping proper posture while running helps to soothe pain, but more than often, you might have to take a few days off from running to give your body the chance to heal.

To perform some good stretches for the neck, upper and lower back and hips will help to readjust our form and loosen some muscle tightness in our neck.

Focus on Good Running Form, Stare Forward Not Only On The Ground, Release the Neck and Shoulder Tightness, Feel Good, Enjoy a Great Run!


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