Training Tips

Getting the Swing of Runner’s Shoulder

A common misconception in the realm of athletic injuries is that since runners are pounding the pavement so hard and repetitively, any injuries they sustain are confined to their legs. While most of the aches and pains do tend to crop up somewhere below the waist, running engages your upper limbs in a rhythmic and repetitive way that can be damaging to the joints and muscles even without the impact. Your arms swing back and forth almost 1,000 times per mile, so pain around the shoulder blades and top of the chest is not unusual in runners, with poor posture and muscle weaknesses being the usual culprits. Elevation, crutches, sitting and lying down are usually effective ways to rest leg injuries; however, it is very difficult to ‘rest’ an arm joint, such as the shoulder. Even standing or sitting requires the shoulder musculature to contract, which can exacerbate the pain.

When you start to fatigue, either as a result of increased mileage or pace, there is a natural tendency to draw your shoulders upward an inward, usually without knowing it. This elevation of the shoulders allows you to recruit bigger muscles to assist your rib cage in breathing. Over time, however, this elevated position can create damaging pressure and friction in the joints of the upper body.

Exercising and stretching some of the muscles you pay less attention to as a runner can help ease pain in the upper back. You can increase the range of motion in the area before or after running by gently stretching your neck forward and side-to-side and also doing shoulder rotations. If you bring your shoulders backward and down and squeeze your shoulder blades together, you should feel an opening in the chest right away.

What you do when you’re not running can also greatly affect how your body feels when you’re working out. This is particularly true of the upper back, since so many people spend a majority of their workday sitting. If you use a computer, try to maintain a good ergonomic position with your shoulders stacked over your hips. Keeping the mouse in a comfortable position closer down to your thigh rather than right in front of you, too far to one side or too high can greatly reduce shoulder stress over the course of the day. When driving, keep your arms loose and as low to the sides as you can and try to consciously pull your head back to the headrest to avoid slouching towards the wheel.

If upper body or shoulder pain do creep up on you and don’t subside with stretches alone, Chiropractic care and Therapeutic Massage are both excellent options to realign the joints and improve overall range of motion.

Kaiser Permanente Center for Complementary Medicine