“I have been running for about eight months and am increasingly aware of pain and tightness in my upper back and neck. It seems to get worse the longer I run which is a shame as otherwise my fitness is improving. I stretch but my work does involve a lot of being in front of the computer. Is there anything else I should be doing?”
Running Fitness Magazine, July 2014
Upper back pain when running can often be an indication of holding the shoulders in a raised position. The hours we spend in front of the computer, driving, on the phone can mean this elevation/forward rotation of the shoulders becomes a natural position for us to assume whilst running.
A stretching program aimed at reducing tension in the muscles associated with this shoulder position (particularly the chest) can help, along with trying to avoid spending hours in the same position during the day. However, becoming aware of what your arms are doing whilst you are running can also play a key part. For example, imagine you are running: which part of the arm swing do you focus on, the hands coming forwards or the elbows driving back? It is actually the latter that helps promote a more efficient shoulder movement. Focussing on driving the elbows backwards and downwards can help alleviate tension in the shoulders and encourage a lengthening in the neck.
Bear in mind I am not saying you should spend your whole run trying to consciously change what your arms are doing. That would waste energy and could lead to tension elsewhere. Instead, try inserting some short interval drills of 10 to 20 seconds: check if your elbows are at approximately 90¬0; feel the insides of the elbows brush against the sides of the body with each swing; after diving your elbows back, check your hands are moving forwards as opposed to crossing over in front; check your hands are relaxed as opposed to fists, as if you were ‘holding a crisp in between your thumb and forefinger’. Drills like these should help relax those shoulders and may even see an increase in your running performance. Do let us know how it goes!
Matt Phillips is the in-house Running Injury Specialist for UK magazine Running Fitness. Buy your copy today in all good magazine outlets, e.g. WHSmiths.