Cross Training For Runners

Top 6 Causes Of Neck Pain While Running

7 Mins read

Hey there, fellow runners!

Lace up your running shoes and get ready to dive into a topic that’s often overlooked in the world of running.

We all know that running is all about putting those legs to work, right? But what if I told you that your upper body, particularly your neck and shoulders, could have a say in your running game too?

Picture this: You’re out for a run, pushing through the miles, and suddenly, you feel a twinge of discomfort in your neck.

Or perhaps you wake up the day after a long run with shoulders that seem to be staging a revolt.

It’s not the usual suspect—those pesky lower extremity injuries like runners knee or shin splints—but it’s happening.

So, what’s the deal? Is running a lower-body exclusive club, or is there more to the story?

Spoiler alert: there’s more.

While your legs are the stars of the show, your upper body plays a crucial supporting role.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at why your neck and shoulders might be giving you grief during or after your runs. We’ll explore the unexpected causes of the role of posture and even share some real-life stories from fellow runners who’ve conquered neck pain.

Ready to hit the ground running? Let’s go

  1. Weak Posture

The most common villain in the world of neck pain while running is poor posture. Now, before you think, “Wait a minute, I thought this was about running, not sitting at a desk!” – hear me out. This sneaky saboteur is more cunning than you might think.

Poor posture isn’t just a problem at your desk; it’s a sly infiltrator that can worm its way into your running form, too. You see, many of us spend hours hunched over our desks, heads drooping like we’re trying to spot loose change on the floor, and backs resembling arch bridges.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

All that time spent slouched over can lead to something known as ‘forward head posture.’ It’s like a hidden assassin that quietly sabotages your neck and shoulders during your runs.

How? By messing with your center of gravity and putting extra strain on your cervical spine, which is the one responsible for your neck’s well-being.

The Fix:

So, what can you do to thwart this office ninja and keep your neck in tiptop shape while running?

First, aim for a neutral neck position. Imagine your head as a regal crown, balanced directly over your spine, not leaning forward like you’re about to take off in a sprint.

Next, let’s talk shoulders. They should be like well-behaved soldiers, nearly level and confidently pressed down your back, not huddled up like they’re afraid of the enemy. Remember, strong neck muscles are your allies, so throw in some exercises to keep them in fighting shape.

And for all those desk warriors out there, make your workstation your ally. Adjust that computer screen to eye level, and give your feet a cozy support

For more reading on office ergonomics, check the following posts:

  1. Clenching Your Fists

Now, let’s talk about something we’ve all probably done at some point – clenching our fists while running. You might not realize it, but those clenched fists can turn into troublemakers on your journey to a pain-free run.

With every step, the tension from your clenched fists travels like a sneak attack, creeping up your forearms and upper arms and eventually staging a full-on invasion of your trapezius muscles and neck. It’s like an unwelcome guest crashing your running party.

And here’s the kicker – the more miles you conquer, the more stress and strain your arms endure. Add the bouncy nature of running, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. This tension doesn’t just stop at your arms; it goes all the way up to your shoulders and neck, creating a chain reaction of discomfort that can seriously mess with your running mojo.

The Fix:

When you feel your shoulders or neck tensing up mid-run, give those hands a break. Let them hang loose as if you’re holding a delicate butterfly – you don’t want to crush it, do you?

Or here’s another mental trick: imagine you’re holding a precious penny between your forefinger and thumb, and you definitely don’t want to drop it as you gracefully glide through your run.

Additional resource – Chiropractor for runners

  1. Gazing Down At The Ground

Now, let’s address something that often flies under the radar – the direction of your gaze while running. You might not realize it, but where you look can have a significant impact on your overall running experience. Your eyes might be small, but they wield a mighty influence over your body’s movements.

Here’s the deal: when you constantly gaze downward while running, it’s like sending a signal to your neck to go into full-flex mode. And trust me, that’s a recipe for trouble.

Not only does this constant downward gaze wreak havoc on your neck, but it also sets off a chain reaction of problems throughout your body.

The Fix:

So, how do you break free from the downward gaze dilemma? It’s all about adjusting your line of sight. Instead of staring at the ground, tuck your chin in slightly and shift your gaze up towards the horizon.

  1. Excessive Pumping OF The Arms

You might think that your arms just along for the ride when you run, but they play a more crucial role than you realize.

In fact, flailing your arms in all directions while running is a recipe for disaster. Not only does it look a bit chaotic, but it’s also a recipe for neck and shoulder discomfort. Plus, it’s like throwing your energy out the window.

The Fix:

First things first, let’s talk about posture. Imagine you’re a marionette puppet, and your puppeteer is gently pulling your shoulders down and back. This sets the stage for proper arm movement.

Next, think about bending your elbows at a comfy 90-degree angle. Your arms should form an “L” shape, and you’re ready to roll.

Now, here’s the trick: your arm movement should come from your shoulders, not your elbows. It’s all about a smooth, controlled swing forward and backward. Think of it as a relaxed pendulum motion.

Additional Resource -Your guide to jaw pain while running

  1. You’re Dehydrated

Here’s a surprising twist – your neck pain might be related to something as simple as not drinking enough water. Yes, you heard that right!

When you’re dehydrated, your body doesn’t just punish you with dry skin and a parched throat; it can also give you a stiff neck.

Here’s how it works:

When you’re not adequately hydrated, your muscles, ligaments, and tendons start to tighten up. This tightening can lead to that unpleasant neck pain you’ve been experiencing while running.

But wait, there’s more! Dehydration can also trigger headaches, and you guessed it, this tension often finds its way to your neck and shoulders.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Staying well-hydrated can actually help prevent cervical disc degeneration, a common cause of neck pain. These spinal discs are mostly water and collagen, and keeping them lubricated is key to maintaining disc height and spinal alignment.

The Fix:

Make it a habit to drink plenty of water throughout the day, not just around your runs. Aim for at least eight generous glasses of water daily if you’re hitting the pavement on a scorching day or going for a long run, up your intake accordingly.

If you’re an early morning runner, start your hydration routine before you even step out the door. Check your urine color – if it’s pale, you’re on the right track. And for those extended, sweaty sessions, carry water with you to stay quenched.

Additional resource – Common cause of lower leg pain after running

  1. A Running/Athletic injury

Sometimes, the pain in your neck while running isn’t your fault at all. Life has a funny way of throwing curveballs, and your neck might be paying the price for it.

Here are some scenarios where pre-existing injuries and medical conditions might be the cause:

  • Acute Injuries: You could have hurt your neck or the surrounding muscles and joints doing something entirely unrelated to running. Maybe it was a heavy lifting mishap, a wild game of catch, or a tumble down the stairs.
  • Overuse Injuries: Hours spent in front of a computer with poor posture can take a toll. The result? Neck pain that haunts you during your runs.
  • Arthritis: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in your neck can be a source of ongoing discomfort.
  • Meningitis: Infections like meningitis, which affects the spinal cord and brain lining, can manifest as neck pain.
  • Spinal Stenosis: This refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal, and it can contribute to neck issues.
  • Simple Neck Strain: Sometimes, something as mundane as sleeping in an awkward position or sitting too long in front of a screen can lead to neck strain.
  • Ruptured Cervical Disc: When the disc between the bones of your neck protrudes from its normal position, it can cause serious discomfort.

The Fix

If you suspect any of these conditions or if your neck pain persists despite trying the fixes mentioned earlier, don’t play the waiting game. It’s time to consult a doctor. They can provide the right diagnosis and recommend the best course of action.

When to See a Doctor for Neck Pain

You’ve tried the fixes, followed the advice, and waited for relief, but your neck pain just won’t let up. Don’t hesitate any longer; it’s time to get professional help.

Here are some signs that you should consult a doctor or physical therapist:

  • Persisting Symptoms: If your neck pain hasn’t subsided despite your best efforts after a few weeks, it’s a red flag that you need expert evaluation.
  • Numbness, Pins and Needles, or Weakness: If you experience these sensations that worsen in one or both arms, it could indicate a more serious issue that requires immediate attention.
  • Headache and Scalp Tension: A constant headache accompanied by a tight or squeezed feeling in your neck and scalp can be a warning sign.
  • Ear Ringing, Blurred Vision, or Dizziness: Experiencing any of these symptoms for an extended period, especially beyond 48 hours, might be related to your neck pain and should not be ignored.
  • Balance or Coordination Problems: If you’ve noticed changes in your balance or coordination since your neck pain started, it’s a signal that you need to consult a professional.

Additional Resource – Here’s how to use KT Tape for runners knee.

Neck Pain While Running – The Conclusion

There you have it. If you’re suffering from shoulder or neck pain while running, today’s post should have provided more than an answer to what’s ailing you. Please take care of yourself and don’t neglect any kind of problem—neck pain is no exception.

Feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep running strong.

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