Upper Back Pain After Running - Everything You Should Know

It is usual and expected to have your leg muscles and lungs burn after a hard and long run. This form of pain or ache is common when you work your muscles heavily and is part of their development process. Any other type of pain after workout is not a result of muscle activity and development and should be evaluated as soon as possible.

Many people associate running pain and injuries with body parts that are below the waist like hips, knees, ankles, etc. Because these are the most active body parts while running, it is totally understandable to have that kind of opinion. However, you would be surprised with how many runners suffer from upper back pain.

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Are you one of those people that experience this pain between and/or under the shoulder blades, neck and shoulders after running? If you are and you want to find out more about this condition, its potential causes and how to manage this condition, please read on.

Bad posture as one of the most common causes of upper back pain

Many people spend most of their working hours sitting at the desk in slouched position. Even when you’re not at work, you’re probably slouching during some kind of activity like texting, watching tv etc. This is the lifestyle that most people have and runners are no different.

Slouching is a common condition in which upper back becomes very rounded. When you slouch, your spine flexes, causing strain to your neck, shoulders and back. Over time, this flexed position leads to weakness of postural muscles, causing you to slouch even more and feel additional pain and discomfort.

Unfortunately, this improper sitting posture also translates to running. Don’t expect your usual, improper posture to disappear when you head out for a run. You will probably continue to move in that same weak position. Moreover, running will put on additional stress on these structures, especially if you do it on harder surface.

Many people will try to compensate their improper posture when running by shrugging their shoulders. Pulling your shoulder closer to your ears may not be uncomfortable at first. However, if you do this for longer periods of time, you’ll be starting to feel tension and tightness in your neck.

There are other running technique issues that can lead to problems with your upper back. Holding your fists too tight can transfer tension to your upper back through the forearm and upper arm.

Moving your arms too much can cause additional stress on shoulders, neck and upper back and waste more energy. Arms should be used to counterbalance your strides and not produce force, propel you forward or waste your energy.

Other factors that can contribute to upper back pain after running

Although weak and improper posture is a primary cause of pain in between and under the shoulder blades, neck and shoulders, there are other factors that can contribute to this condition such as:

  • Overuse

Inexperienced runners can feel pain in the back following a hard workout. This pain can even last for a couple of days after workout, especially if you do too much too soon.

  • Low back mobility

Tight muscles and tendons of your back can also lead to upper back pain, especially after you’ve stretched them during your run. This tightness can result from sedentary lifestyle, bad sleeping, low flexibility etc.

  • Improper stretching

Stretching before and after you run or do any kind of physical activity is almost important as your workout. Improper stretching will lead to tighter muscles and tendons, lower mobility and flexibility and higher strain on the upper back. Your running will be even harder than it already is.

  • Stress

Recent study has shown that stress lowers the ability to deal with aches and pain that you can normally. Since bad running posture raises the level of stress hormone also known as cortisone instead of decreasing them, running with bad posture results in bigger pain and ache in the upper back. Moreover, stress and anxiety also raise muscle tension.

  • Dehydration

Dehydration is one of many reasons for muscle cramps that can happen in upper back, neck and shoulders after running.

  • Improper lifting technique

  • Being overweight

  • Sports injuries

There are also other less common causes that seek medical attention such as herniated discs in the thoracic spine, compression fractures, arthritis, fibromyalgia etc.

How to manage your upper back pain after running?

As with any other sports injury, simple rest with ice and/or heat and anti-inflammatory medications can help you in short amount of time. Avoid any movement or activities that can aggravate the pain. Ice or heat can be applied to reduce pain and swelling within the first couple of days after the symptoms develop.

Many people feel relief after getting a massage. This is another great temporary solution that will lose tight muscles and increase blood flow in the painful area in order to accelerate the healing process. There are few options for massaging the upper back like self-massage with foam roller or massage done by professional.

However, these are just temporary solutions for almost immediate pain and discomfort relief. It is important to identify factors that contribute to the development of upper back pain and correct them.

Correct your posture

Having a good posture can help you prevent upper back pain. However, correcting your posture is not an easy task. Because we are in several positions during our day, it is important to maintain the correct form in each position or activity.

Try to walk with your head balanced and straight ahead of you, avoid dropping your shoulders and make sure you land on your heel and then push forward with your forefoot.

Most people sit for 8 to 12 hours during day. That is why it is important to correct your sitting posture too. In order to maintain your natural lumbar spine curve, keep your back flush against your chair with your knees below your hip level. If you’re not able to maintain this position by yourself, you can use tools and support such as lumbar roll.

Change your sitting position slowly and occasionally. You should also take regular walk brakes from sitting. It is recommended to do them at least once every hour while changing your sitting position every 15 to 20 minutes.

Running with good form will keep you from upper back pain after running. You should run with straight posture, flat back and engaged core. Moreover, try not to twist at the waist level too much.

Strengthening exercises

yoga for runner

Postural muscle weakness leads to improper posture and can be the cause of upper back pain after running. Increasing the strength of rhomboid muscles, the lower and mid trapezius and the shoulders will lower the stress on the back while running and prevent upper back pain. Some of the strengthening exercises are shoulder extension, Superman and pull-downs.

Shoulder extension
  • Attach the resistance band up at hip height.
  • Hold a straight posture and make sure your shoulder blades are positioned down and back.
  • Extend your arms straight back as far as you can go.
  • Maintain this position for a second, then return to starting position.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions.
Superman
  • Lie on your stomach on the floor.
  • Lift your arms and legs up off the floor.
  • Hold for 30 seconds or more, then lower your arms and legs.
  • Do 1 set of 5 repetitions.
Lat pull-down
  • Sit at the machine with straight back and feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold your arms over your head at full extension, grasping a bar that is connected to weight.
  • Pull the elbows down and back, lowering the bar to the neck.
  • Return to the previous position.
  • Do 3 reps of 10 do 12 repetitions.

Proper warm up and stretching

yoga for runner

Proper warm up and stretching is important for prevention of upper back problems. You should do your stretching before and after your workout.

Dynamic upper body warm up such as neck and shoulder rolling and arms swinging are recommended before workout. After your run, you should also do static stretching exercises that will target both upper and lower body parts.

If you’re not sure what kind of exercises you should do, I’ve made a list with some of the best back stretches for upper back pain.

Kinesio taping

Kinesio taping is a popular way to manage your upper back pain. In addition to reduction of pain and swelling, kinesio tapes also provide support for maintaining a proper posture. There are various techniques for upper back kinesio taping. Although they are easy to apply, you will need a help from another person.

Conclusion

Upper back pain is an unpleasant condition that can limit your everyday activities. Even though there are various causes and contributing factors, it all comes down to bad posture in most cases. That is why the focus of this article was on ways to improve how we hold ourselves while sitting, standing and moving.

If you don’t do anything about your pain and discomfort, this upper back condition can get worse and limit you further. Even small corrections in posture can have big benefits for you and your health.

It is also important to work on the other body parts such as lower back, hips, legs. Lower back problems can also cause pain in the upper back, neck and shoulders. If your not able to correct your posture by yourself, there are various tools that can help like braces, kinesio tapes etc. I’ve already made a list with some of the best back braces for lower back pain that can also help upper back problems.

If the pain is severe and last for more than couple of days, you should seek professional medical help. There can be serious underlying cause of upper back pain that should be treated as soon as possible.

I hope that with this text you’ve learned more about upper back problems, most often causes and how to correct them so you can run the best possible way.  

Bella Williams
 

Hi! I'm Bella. I love running. I write this blog to share everyone about running.

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