If you are one of the head-strong people that try not to let chronic neck pain slow you down… Kudos to you! Maybe you’re one of the more disciplined type that even tries to jog regularly.
If you are, maybe you wonder… does jogging help relieve neck pain?
JOGGING: HELP OR AGGRAVATION FOR CHRONIC NECK PAIN?
Most people realize that starting on a high-impact jogging regime without proper warm-up, correct shoes, some reasonable fitness level and a good sports bra for women will lead to various aches and pains… including neck pain.
Clearly, this is not a great way to motivate yourself to continue to get fit. But… can jogging itself cause neck pain… or can it actually help relieve it? Most importantly – make certain you know when NOT to jog with neck pain… and when it’s time to see your health professional.
Those of us with certain weird anatomical issues, like a cervical rib (an extra rib that arises from the C7 vertebrae) may cause compression of structures like the brachial plexus or thoracic outlet. Also, signs of degenerative disc disease (DDD) with bulging discs in the neck… or herniated discs are more likely to have pain issues from a high impact sport such as running or jogging.
In fact, these individuals may not be aware that they have a problem until they start jogging. Especially if issues such as numbness or poor circulation when raising their arms over their head… or if they have persistent cramps and twinges of shoulder pain… or pain down the arm – a thorough medical assessment prior to starting any new exercise program is definitely needed.
Way back in 1978, scientists connected an increase in neuropathy (pain, tingling, numbness or weakness) with the jogging craze… and predicted it to increase as more people took to the roads. In fact, musculoskeletal issues are on the rise with 75% of Americans complaining of chronic neck pain or chronic pain of some other type during their lifetimes. This is often due to too much sitting and a general lack of fitness. The muscles become lazy, weak and atrophy – they can’t support the body effectively. Add in the Standard American Diet (SAD) with its highly processed foods which are full of pro-inflammatory substances (sugar, Omega-6 fatty acids, food coloring, etc) and pain issues become even more problematic.
THE BENEFITS OF JOGGING
- Losing weight: One issue to be aware of is the relationship between being overweight and experiencing chronic neck pain. Fat (adipose) tissue increases pain signal transmission. Losing weight through jogging should not only reduce chronic neck pain… but increases endorphins (nature’s own pain-killer). It lowers the pain signals themselves… making jogging a triple plus: lose weight, less pain and improved fitness. Also, running outside in the sunshine will help make more vitamin D3 – which will help with musculoskeletal issues as well as improve your mood and immune system function. For a more in-depth discussion of vitamin D3, see the article here. Recent studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D3 result in poorer results for those of us unlucky enough to need surgery.
2. Increasing upper body strength: research into upper body strength stresses the connection between being in descent physical condition to avoid injuries that cause neck pain and other musculoskeletal problems. In 2008, Andersen found that specific resistance training… and an well-rounded exercise program decreased the amount of neck pain. These patients had better oxygenation of their tissues (shoulders, back, neck and core muscles) and less overall pain. Improved cardiovascular health from jogging also made healing from injuries quicker.
JOGGING AND NECK SURGERY
It is very important to prepare your body properly before you begin a jogging routine. A short regimen of weight lifting could help prevent neck injuries prior to starting to jog. However, those of you that have recently had neck surgery (cervical spine surgery)… or suffered an injury to that area – should avoid both weight lifting and jogging until cleared by your doctor. Other activities that should be avoided while recovering include:
- Leg lifts while lying on your stomach
- Sit-ups with legs straight (rather than bent knees)
TIPS FOR PAIN-FREE JOGGING
If you decide to start jogging, a key item to watch is your posture. This is very important when running up or down hills… as most people tend to lean back when running downhill – which strains the back muscles. Keeping your head level and looking forward… rather than looking down when jogging will prevent excessive neck strain.
Proper warm ups are very important… with simple neck stretching exercises (see our video here.) This prepares the neck muscles for activity and gets the circulation flowing. Warming up the shoulders and arms are key to preventing strains and neck pain when jogging. Having a natural arm-swing… rather than a stiff arm-pumping action will help prevent muscle aches, stiffness and cramps in the shoulders causing neck and shoulder pain.
Start slowly if you haven’t jogged before… alternate a couple minutes of walking with a minute of jogging. Then, gradually increase the jogging periods until the walking periods are no longer needed. If you experience neck pain, chest pain, fatigue, knee pain or shoulder pain…slow things down to a walk until you are comfortable and then try jogging again.
Some spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and spondylolisthesis may be helped by a fairly low-key jogging routine. Also, fibromyalgia symptoms may improve using a combination of jogging, yoga, strength training and neck stretching exercises.
10 REASONS YOUR NECK AND SHOULDERS HURT WHILE JOGGING
- You clench your fists: tension travels up through the body… so if you are clenching your fists the tension will travel through your forearm and upper arm and into the trapezius muscle (directly connected to your upper back and neck).
2. You jut your head forward: weak posture at work often will follow you on to the street… your head is forward, chin down and back is arched. Instead, try jogging with a “neutral neck”… head tilted slightly down and shoulder pressed toward your back. If it’s difficult to press your shoulders back, try jogging with your arms straight by your side… and then work up to bent elbows when you feel comfortable holding a neutral neck position.
3. Looking down at the ground: your body follows your eye movement… so if you look down, you will hunch forward. When you jog, try to tuck your chin in and keep your eyes up toward the horizon.
4. Shrugging your shoulders: as point #2 says, poor work posture often follows you in jogging. Marginally pulling your shoulders up closer to your ears is one way to compensate for poor posture. This shrugging of your shoulders may not feel uncomfortable at first… but it may cause tension and tightness in your neck if you jog that way for a long time. The fix is easy… just drop your shoulder blades down your back a little more with each breath and check this posture as you jog.
5. Pumping your arms across your body: this causes unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders… and wastes a lot of energy. Try pulling your shoulders down and back, bend your arms at a 90 degree angle at the elbow and continue pumping. Your arms should be used to counterbalance your stride, not propel you forward.
6. Low mobility in your back: Tightness in the upper and middle back will mess up even the most ideal jogging posture. Sometimes it comes from sitting all day… other times it comes from poor conditioning. The solution is thoracic spine rotation. Begin with all of your fingers spread slightly. Place the left hand behind your head but keep the right hand outstretched on the ground in front of you. Rotate your left elbow toward the sky while exhaling and hold for one deep breath. Switch arms and repeat.
7. You feel stiff all over: this could be from the previous days exercise. The solution: put off jogging for a few minutes and roll on foam to loosen things up.
8. You aren’t stretching properly: before and after you run, stretching the shoulders, neck, arms and back… as well as the lower body is critical.
9. Dehydration: cramping can occur if you’re dehydrated. Try to remember to hydrate one to five hours before you head out for a jog. If you are a morning exerciser, you will naturally wake up dehydrated… so try to drink enough before heading out.
10. Stress: the ability to withstand physical pain is reduced by stress. Jogging helps most people relieve stress. But, if it more of a chore to you on your to-do list, try yoga, meditation, taking a bath with Epsom salts, hiking or simply focusing on deep breathing through your stomach for two minutes.
PS: Don’t forget to download our free ebook. It has great tips to relieve neck pain today!