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Neck Pain While Running – Quick Fix Guide

Updated: Nov 5

You’ll be surprised at how many people suffer from stiff or painful necks during or after running. But how can this be, I hear you say. I run with my legs, not my neck!



There are broadly 3 main reasons why you can get neck pain while running:

  1. Poor posture

  2. Poor technique or habits while running

  3. An injury that you sustained away from running

Poor posture and neck pain while running


Research has shown that poor posture of the neck, shoulders and upper back can all contribute to people developing pain in their necks. If you are suffering with neck pain during or after running this should be the first thing to check.


The most common postural problems identified are forward rounded shoulders, an increased curve of the upper back and a "collapsed" neck that all contribute to a forward head posture. Your head weighs about 5kg and the strain that it puts on your neck muscles and joints increases if it is held off centre.


Do it yourself:

Ask a friend to take a picture of you from the back as well as from the side, while you stand as you normally do. Try and avoid the impulse to straighten up because you know you are being watched – you need an idea of what is "normal" for you.


Good posture in standing, when looking from the side, is defined as when a vertical line can be drawn to run through your ear lobe, roughly the middle of your neck and the middle of your shoulder joint. From the back you want your head to be in the middle, not tilted to one side and your shoulders nearly level (it is normal to have one shoulder a bit higher or lower than the other).


How to fix it:

You can find some handy neck and posture exercises in this link but also here, that will help improve and prevent poor posture.



You should lengthen your neck when standing and not allow it to slump like in the first picture.


Neck pain due to poor running technique or habits


Habits or technique that can cause neck pain during running are closely related to posture. Check that you are not pulling your shoulders up or letting your neck hang to one side when you get tired.


I have a tendency to squash the left side of my neck when I get tired and I can immediately decrease any discomfort by bringing my neck back to the middle.


Do it yourself:

Ask your helpful friend again to take a picture/video from the side and back, but this time while you are running on a treadmill. If you want to be really thorough, you can get them to do it at the end of a training session to see if your running posture changes with fatigue.


While running, you don’t expect a person’s ear to be exactly above their shoulder, because they should ideally be leaning forward to put their centre of gravity slightly in front of them. What you don’t want to see is a collapsed neck with the chin poking out to the front, the head tilting to one side, the shoulders being pulled up or the head turned down to the floor.


How to fix it:

A technique that I find useful is to think about lengthening your spine as if a balloon is attached to the back of your head and pulling you up. This does not mean that you should now be running as upright as a lamppost! You should continue to lean while lengthening your spine or not collapsing/slumping your neck.



You should lengthen your neck while running, but continue to lean forward.


An injury that you sustained away from running


Another common cause for neck pain while running is when you have actually injured your neck while doing something else. This can be a sudden injury e.g. by lifting something heavy or repetitive strain while working in poor posture in front of the computer.


You will normally also have neck pain with other activities than running if this is the case. You can try and see if maintaining a good posture while running helps to alleviate the symptoms, but you may have to refrain from running to give your neck a chance to heal first, depending on how bad it is.


Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.


Best wishes

Maryke


About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.




References

  1. Griegel-Morris, P., Larson, K., Mueller-Klaus, K., & Oatis, C. A. (1992). Incidence of Common Postural Abnormalities in the Cervical, Shoulder, and Thoracic Regions and Their Association with Pain in Two Age Groups of Healthy Subjects. Physical Therapy, 72(6),

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