Learn more about how upper body pain impacts runners

You might associate running with leg, knee, or foot pain, but the truth is runners can also suffer discomfort in the shoulder and neck.

In fact, such upper body problems can be as detrimental to runners as stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and other lower body injuries. Tightness, strains, cramping, aching, soreness, and inflammation can all occur in the neck, shoulders, and arms when you run regularly.

Here’s how to address this discomfort — and how to prevent it from developing in the first place.

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In Running, Form Follows Function

Most upper body pain associated with running has one main cause: poor form. As a result, you may hunch your shoulders near your ears, round your shoulders, or swing your arms too widely when logging miles.

These positions and movements may seem harmless at first, but over time they can trigger painful problems such as tense or sore muscles, a stiff neck, muscle spasms, rotator cuff injuries, and thoracic outlet syndrome, which is caused by pressure on the blood vessels and nerves that exit the neck and descend down the arm. This can result in numbness or tingling in the upper extremities.

Prevent Shoulder Pain from Running

To avert upper body pain from running, you’ve got to prevent muscles from tightening up. These tips can help protect your body so you can enjoy your run:

  • Get stronger. Along with proper running mechanics, it’s important that your other muscles are in good working order. Regular strength training, as well as abdominal exercises to strengthen your core, are necessary to help support your upper body as you stride.
  • Loosen up. Drop your shoulders, shake out your arms, and try to release tension from your back and neck before, after, and during your run. Move your shoulders fluidly when you run, not just your arms.
  • Breathe correctly. Alter your breathing rhythm by taking two steps while you inhale and two steps while you exhale. Breathe from your diaphragm muscle (in your abdomen) rather than from your chest.
  • Position yourself properly. Appropriate running posture requires that your spine is elongated, your pelvis relaxed, your body is leaning slightly forward, and your arms are bent at right angles to your torso.
  • Stretch it out. In addition to stretching your quadriceps, hamstrings, and other lower body muscles after a run, you should also stretch your upper body. Gently tilt your head up and down and from side to side, turn your head left and right, and roll your shoulders. A sports medicine expert can give you more information about preventing neck and shoulder pain caused by running.

For more information on sports injuries and rehabilitation, visit the UPMC Sports Medicine website.

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.