Upper back pain and neck pain is a very common issue with runners. One of the main issue is our daily posture. Due to today’s lifestyle, most people tend to slouch during the day, while sitting at work, using our computer or mobile phone, travelling, cooking, cleaning etc… This constant crunched over posture can cause some side effects for our running form, we tend to run with our head leaning forward and our shoulders in a rounded position, a slouched posture. This running form can cause upper back and neck pain issues for runners. Another issue is shoulder tightness when running.
How to Avoid Upper Back Pain When Running
Our spines are designed to move in many directions, both forward and backward and be flexible. One of the main causes is that we spend most of our time hunched over, which is often linked to a posterior pelvic tilt, and causes a reduction in the normal lumbar curve that increases the risk of lower back pain. The rounded shoulders and forward head posture tends to increase to back issues. Over time, the constant flexed position causes excessive strain on the posterior muscles of the spine. It can overload the vertebral discs and ligaments, which can lead to pain and dysfunction. Poor posture can cause improper spinal positioning and affect the neck, shoulders, lower back, mid-back/thoracic, and the entire body. The flexed hunched over posture leads to postural muscle weakness which can create some injuries. This posture issue for runners, can also cause limitations in performance as rib and vertebral mobility gets worse. It actually reduces the ability to utilize the full lung capacity and to adequately transmit forces up and down the spine. Runners often experience increased neck and upper back pain when running longer distances, on hard surfaces, and also carrying heavy hydration packs. The first symptoms are usually an achy feeling in the neck, shoulders and upper back, this may cause to lose focus on the running form.
Best Treatments for Upper Back Pain
- Work on Posture– We should sit and stand up straight, and focus on our running form. When running, we need to lean forward slightly to allow an easier passage of air, but we have to make sure that our head doesn’t protrude too far from the body. To fix our running posture gradually will have several benefits, first we have to focus on the posterior back muscles which are responsible for maintaining an upright posture, but when they’re weak it might be challenging. When we first start to correct the posture, it may cause some pain as the muscles will be used in a way they are not used to. Persistence is crucial to eliminate pain and decrease the risk of injury.
- Proper Sitting Posture– When dealing with a hunched over sitting position, it can cause many risks of neck, shoulder upper back pain. Limiting the amount of sitting time will help to maintain a proper posture and avoid injury. Move every hour, walk, stretch, increase your mobility. Also, sitting with the correct posture is crucial. We have to make sure that our knees stay below our hip level so we can maintain a natural lumbar curve.
- Hydration Packs– Loads of compression and heavy weight on our back can put too much pressure on our back to make it stay hunched over. When we have issues with upper back and neck pain, we should try to limit the amount of time we carry our pack. To wear a waist strap or Naked Belt can be a good alternative. Also, if we have back issues, we should only carry what we need, often we tend to carry too much. We can carry the basic items as long as we have access to areas that contain back up items (water, food).
- Postural Muscle Strength– To perform strengthening exercises once the upper back and neck pain is decreasing will help to get those muscles stronger so they can support a proper straight form. These exercises are not intense but very efficient. Link: EXERCISES FOR SCAPULOTHORACIC AND POSTURAL MUSCLE STRENGTH
- Foam Rolling and Stretches– Using the foam roller to stretch to whole back is very helpful, make sure your knees are bent and the back of your head is supported by your hands with your arms bent. To perform stretches to open the chest with deep breath in, will open the thoracic muscles, then bend down exhaling to stretch the upper back. Another good stretch is the cobra stretch, lie on your stomach put your hands forward on the ground and lift your torso, keeping your head in line with your spine, hold for 30 secs and repeat 3 times. Link: STRETCHES TO RELIEVE SHOULDER AND TRAPEZIUS TENSION
- Activation of the Nervous System– Another issue that can cause high level of tightness of the trapezius muscles is the nervous system. When we have a bad posture, it can be caused by the upper trapezius muscles that become overactive, which causes pain and muscle spasms. This is due to the nervous system. The trapezius muscle is an important postural muscle. The more we slouch and hold our head forward with rounded shoulder posture the more signals the nervous system will send to the upper portion of the trapezius, which will cause tightness, pain and spasms. The key is to improve our posture by keeping our shoulder blades back and downward which will engage our lower trapezius. Once we reset our posture, the nervous system will send signals to the lower trapezius and decrease the signals to the upper trapezius. This signal combination and balance will improve the thoracic mobility to reduce the muscle pain and spasms.
- Inflammation and Pain Relief Gels– Using some Arnica cream with natural herbs or magnesium gels with natural herbs will provide some pain relief and reduce the inflammation. To take daily 400mg magnesium supplements will also help to reduce the muscle soreness, consume the supplements before bedtime.
- Kinesiology Tape– Using sports tape/kinesiology tape will help to provide muscle support to maintain proper posture. Sports tape also reduces muscle soreness.
- Physio Therapy– If we continue to feel pain and discomfort after a few weeks following these recommendations, to see a physical therapist can help improve the posture, thoracic, neck and whole back mobility, and reduce muscle tightness. Osteopathic therapists are very professional to treat any back-muscle issues.
Proper Running Form, Good Training, Strong Running!