Shoulder hurting on a run? Cramps? Pain that you can't shake off? It's annoying but normal, and (thank goodness) definitely treatable. "The number one cause is usually tension," said Nirav Pandya, MD, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at UC San Francisco. As much as we think of running as a lower-body exercise, you're really moving and working your entire body, he told POPSUGAR. If you're getting shoulder cramps and pain regularly, it's time to focus on your upper body, breathing technique, and overall running form.
Causes of Shoulder Pain During a Run
At the beginning of a run, your body tends to be loose: swinging arms, upright posture. But as fatigue sets in, Dr. Pandya explained, "there's a tendency to kind of tighten up around your shoulder and neck." You lean forward and bring your arms closer to you. Pain and cramps in your shoulders can be the result.
Another potential culprit: your breathing. You may have experienced this before; as you get tired, you'll start breathing more in shorter, shallower gasps. That's not only less effective in terms of getting oxygen to your muscles, Dr. Pandya said, but also increases stress on your chest and shoulder muscles. Again, that tension can lead to uncomfortable cramping.
The last main possibility, Dr. Pandya told POPSUGAR, is overall weakness in your upper body. "As runners, we have a tendency to concentrate a lot on our lower bodies, and we don't do a lot of upper-body strengthening," he said. It's understandable, but essentially a mistake. Your arms and upper body need strength to push you through any kind of run, whether long and slow or short and fast, and neglecting to train that area might lead to shoulder pain down the road.
Improper hydration could also be a cause, though Dr. Pandya said that's more likely cause cramps in your lower body. If you address the other issues and are still having trouble, he recommended upping your electrolyte and water intake as well as double-checking that your diet has plenty of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.
How to Treat Shoulder Pain During a Run
The top thing is to focus on your form, Dr. Pandya said. In a previous interview, Equinox run coach Michael Olzinski, MSc, said that proper upper body running form involves "a nice, relaxed arm swing, where your arms are generally at your side near your ribcage or pushing behind you," making sure that your hands aren't spending too much time in front of your body. Consciously loosen and relax your upper body. Shake out your shoulders and let them shrug up and down to encourage them to move naturally. You can even warm up your arms with some jumping jacks before you head out.
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