Sure, tight hamstrings, sore quads, maybe even stiff calves are expected after a tough run. What’s not necessarily predictable is a sore left shoulder or a knot in your lower back that just won’t fade. Luckily, there are posture tweaks or gear adjustments that can ease those twinges. Here, we review a few of the more common complaints runners have and offer a few easy solutions.
A KNOT IN YOUR NECK
Pain in your neck can often be fixed by a simple gear switch. For women, an ill-fitting sports bra might be to blame if it’s not giving your chest the support it needs — for those runners with larger busts, the repetitive bouncing motion may lead to neck or upper back strain. That may mean seeking a better-fitting bra with encapsulation or compression-style support. Take careful stock of how everything you’re wearing feels while in motion: Something that felt great in the dressing room may not translate to the trails.
“Right now, whether you’re sitting or standing, shrug your shoulders up really, really, really high,” says Jay Dicharry, physical therapist, biomechanist and author of Running Rewired. “And now try and breathe in deeply … It doesn’t feel very good! Now, relax your shoulders down and take a big breath. It’s much easier to breathe, right? Most of us tend to tense up, and naturally slump in thanks to constantly being on computers or phones. But start to think about opening up the rib cage.”
To open your ribcage, Dicharry suggests swinging your arms straight back while running, rather than forward across your body. “Think about reaching your hands forward, but pushing your elbows back behind you as you run,” he says. “That will help relax your shoulder blades back and down. You’ll keep your fingertips nice and loose and breathe easier all at once.”
If you’re only sore on one side, it’s worth looking at how you’re running: Do you always hold your phone in your right hand? If you’re clenching something (even something as small as a car key) in your fist, that tension may be climbing up your arm and translating to a sore feeling in your shoulder.
This is a simple fix: Invest in a sleeve or pack that can hold your phone or keys, or switch hands. “If you’re not having pain, it’s fine to be carrying something on the run,” says Dicharry. “But if something is bothering you, that’s a fix you can make.” He adds that while carrying a phone is likely not a major issue, carrying a full 16-ounce water bottle is an inefficient — and potentially posture-threatening — way to hydrate during a long run.
TIGHT LOW BACK
“The vast majority of people tend to arch their low back while running, especially when tired,” says Dicharry. “Runners tend to actually extend their low backs in order to get their upper leg back behind them rather than extending their hip joints.” This may only happen when you’re tired toward the end of the run, but Dicharry notes that if you’re feeling this kind of tightness every time you go long, it’s a signal your proper run posture is failing and you need to either back off the mileage or build up more strength and mobility to support your efforts.
To alleviate that tight lower back feeling on your run, focus on building your hip mobility, especially moving independently of your spine.
Dicharry sees a lot of runners overstriding, which can lead to achy knees post-run — and part of the solution is to focus on the aforementioned ‘sending arms back rather than across your body.’ That’s because when you swing your arms aggressively forward, your legs swing farther forward as well. “But, if you cue your arms to swing more behind you and less in front of you, you not only help breathing, you also cue your body to be more efficient. So, even before I have a conversation about cadences or step rate, I try to get runners to pull their legs closer to their bodies. That leads to less impact stressing the knee joints.”
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