Dealing with Neck Pain as a Runner
As runners, we tend to focus on our legs, but what about our necks? Neck pain isn’t commonly thought of as being a running injury or something that runners deal with. However, neck pain is a surprisingly common issue among runners, sometimes hindering our performance or even keeping us away from running completely. Whether it’s a slight discomfort or a more severe issue, neck pain can throw a wrench in our running routine and hold us back from reaching our goals.
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To have an enjoyable and pain-free running experience, it’s crucial to understand and manage neck pain effectively. By addressing the root causes and implementing preventive measures, we can keep our necks in top shape and continue to grow in our running journey. The good news is that with the right approach, neck pain doesn’t have to sideline you from your running plans.
In this blog post, we will explore the anatomy of the neck, common causes of neck pain in runners, and techniques to identify and address your specific pain problems. We’ll also share practical tips to prevent and manage neck pain, including correction strategies, strengthening exercises, and advice on choosing the right footwear (yes it can translate up to your neck!). Finally, we’ll discuss complementary therapies and treatments that can help alleviate neck pain, and the importance of listening to your body and knowing your limits. So, let’s dive in to conquer neck pain and keep running!
Understanding Neck Pain and Its Causes in Runners
Anatomy of the Neck
The neck, also known as the cervical spine, is a complex and robust structure that supports the weight of our head and houses essential nerves, arteries, and muscles. It consists of seven vertebrae, cushioned by intervertebral discs, and is held together by various ligaments and muscles. The neck is designed to be highly flexible, allowing us to move our head in multiple directions.
Contributing Factors to Runners with Neck Pain
- Poor posture: Maintaining proper posture is essential for keeping our neck in alignment and pain-free. Slouching, hunching, or tilting the head forward during running can put strain on the neck muscles, leading to discomfort and pain. Additionally, everyday activities such as working at a computer or looking down at a smartphone can contribute to poor posture and exacerbate neck pain during running.
- Muscle imbalances: Weak or tight muscles in the neck, shoulders, and upper back can lead to muscle imbalances and ultimately cause neck pain in runners. Overworked or fatigued muscles can also compromise neck stability, making it more difficult to maintain proper running form and increasing the risk of pain or injury.
- Inappropriate footwear: Wearing shoes that don’t provide adequate support or cushioning can negatively impact your running form, leading to added stress on your neck. A poor shoe choice can create a chain reaction of misalignment through the spine, ultimately causing neck pain.
- Running technique: Your running form plays a significant role in distributing forces throughout your body, including your neck. Poor running techniques, such as excessive head bobbing, tensing the shoulders, or an inefficient arm swing, can contribute to neck pain. By refining your running technique, you can help alleviate stress on the neck and prevent pain from arising.
Identifying and Addressing Specific Neck Pain Problems
To effectively manage neck pain, it’s important to understand what’s causing it. If your neck pain persists or worsens, consulting a healthcare professional, preferably a physical therapist, is advisable. They can help diagnose the issue and develop a personalized treatment plan. Sometimes, neck pain might be a symptom of a more serious condition, so it’s crucial to get a professional assessment.
Correction Strategies for Running with Neck Pain
Improve Posture: Start by evaluating and correcting your posture both during running and in daily activities. Conscious efforts to maintain a neutral spine and head position can significantly reduce strain on your neck.
Strengthening Exercises: Incorporate exercises that strengthen the muscles of your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Exercises like chin tucks, shoulder blade squeezes, and upper back strengthening can promote muscle balance and support neck alignment.
Running Form Adjustments: Work on refining your running technique to minimize unnecessary head movement and shoulder tension. Focus on a relaxed posture with your head over your spine and shoulders slightly back. Also, ensure your gaze is forward and level to reduce neck strain.
Preventing Neck Pain in Runners
Preventing neck pain comes down to the same strategies we use to correct and fix neck pain in runners. But neck pain isn’t just a result of running issues. You also need to look at your everyday life to see if there is room for improvement there as well.
Regular Exercise: Regular strengthening and flexibility exercises for the neck, shoulders, and upper back can prevent muscle imbalances and maintain neck health.
Proper Footwear: Choosing the right footwear is essential. Ensure your running shoes provide the necessary support and fit your foot type and running style to prevent misalignment that can affect your neck.
Ergonomic Adjustments: Make ergonomic adjustments to your workspace to promote good posture. Ensure your computer monitor is at eye level and that you’re not constantly looking down at your phone.
Complementary Therapies and Treatments
You don’t have to do this alone! Usually, it is a good idea to get evaluated by a physical therapist for further instruction and help with neck issues, or any pain.
If you want an online consultation with me click the link below!
Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can provide targeted exercises, manual therapy, and advice on running form and posture to help manage and prevent neck pain.
Massage Therapy: Massage can relieve muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation, helping to alleviate neck pain.
Acupuncture: Some runners find relief from neck pain through acupuncture, which can help reduce pain and muscle tightness by stimulating specific points on the body.
Final Thoughts on Running with Neck Pain
Dealing with neck pain as a runner requires a multifaceted approach that includes understanding the causes, addressing specific issues, implementing preventive measures, and exploring complementary therapies. Most importantly, listen to your body. If certain activities or habits worsen your neck pain, take a step back and reassess. Remember, it’s better to take a few days off and recover fully than to push through pain and risk further injury. By taking proactive steps to manage and prevent neck pain, you can enjoy a more comfortable and rewarding running experience.
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All information should be used as a tool for more knowledge on the subject topic, to use as references for later articles where applicable, or just to keep it in mind during future exercise routines or activities.
This article is not meant to give medical advice or to replace professional health care. Should any ailment occur please contact your doctor or physical therapist immediately to keep yourself safe and prevent further damage.
The author is not liable for any personal or commercial damage directly or indirectly related to the content hereof. You are responsible for adhering to local laws and regulations regarding health & safety, including proper use of equipment or safety gear, and compliance with governing healthcare associations, and state, and federal regulations.
Running without Neck Pain
Dr. Abby Siler, PT, DPT is a Physical Therapist with 10 years of experience in a variety of settings. She has spent the majority of her time treating athletes in orthopedic clinics and worker’s compensation cases. She is a runner herself for the past 15 years and a lifelong athlete. Dr. Abby loves to teach runners how to stay injury free and out of her clinic.