Is running a pain in your neck?

Is running a pain in your neck?
Neck pain during or after running is a common complaint amongst runners and we, at Apex Clinic, Belfast treat this everyday. As our team of physios specialise in the spine and sports injuries, this ailment is our “bread and butter.”
When it comes to neck pain in runners, firstly, the correct diagnosis needs to be established as to what exactly is causing the pain. Following this, a specific treatment plan must be implemented in order to clear the symptoms.
Rebecca Nelson, Director of Physiotherapy at Apex Clinic has found from her experience of treating runners for over 20 years, that in most cases, neck pain or soreness in runners results from one or more of the following three factors:
1) Poor running posture:
If your body is properly aligned during running, the natural structure of your skeleton supports the impact of running much better and so you’ll experience fewer problems long-term. When running, the recommended position to adopt is to keep your body upright with your shoulders directly above your hips and relaxed slightly backwards, rather than held upwards around your ears. Your eyes should be fixed on a point directly ahead at eye level and you should avoid looking downwards as this places a tremendous stress and strain on the soft tissues of the neck and upper back, as well as on the discs in this region. To improve your running posture, imagine that there is a helium balloon attached to the top of the back of your head while you’re running, pulling your body gently upwards.
2) Weakness of the muscles in the upper back and neck region:
Weakness of these muscles can be improved with strength training, which helps running performance and may also reduce shoulder and neck tightness/pain as stronger muscles tolerate the running load better. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that upper body strengthening helps running and is an integral part of your overall fitness.
3) Poor spinal mechanics in the upper back or neck region of the spine:
If there is poor mobility (or movement) in one or more of the spinal joints in the upper back or neck region of the spine, this joint stiffness causes referred pain into the neck, shoulders, upper back and even arms. Stiff joints in this area can also lead to disc problems, where the disc irritates or compresses the nerves which are coming out of the spine. This in turn can cause pain and sometimes pins and needles into the arms and hands. Usually, if a runner has a disc problem, they will experience symptoms even when they are not running, such as when they are working in the office, or first thing in the morning.
If a runner has poor spinal mechanics then even if they have a perfect running posture and no muscular weakness in their upper back or neck, they will very likely still experience neck pain or upper back pain until the stiff segments of their spine are manually loosened or mobilised by a physiotherapist, who is experienced in treating spinal problems. This should then certainly clear the pain.
It is important to mention pillows in relation to the mechanics of your neck and upper back. You should always only sleep with one supportive pillow and feather pillows are not recommended.  Try to strictly avoid sleeping on your front as this can lead to almost certain neck problems in the future.  If you are struggling to get comfortable on your pillow, feel free to contact us at Apex Clinic for free advice. Rebecca developed her own range of orthopaedic pillows years ago, so all of the team are well versed in “pillow talk” to help you.