woman sore shoulders running

Why do my shoulders hurt while running? A physio breaks down 8 issues and solutions

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Dealing with sore shoulders during or after running? Here’s a physiotherapist’s guide to fixing it.

Running is widely considered to be a lower body-focused exercise. It engages nearly every part of your legs and often leaves you with sore hamstrings and calves. But running is actually a full body workout, engaging your abs and your back as well as various leg muscles.

However, this doesn’t mean that your entire body should be sore after a run. In fact, there are some areas of your body in which soreness during or after a run could be a sign of a bigger problem.

This is the case with your shoulders, which for a variety of reasons, might feel sore while you’re running or ache the day after. Although your shoulders are engaged while running, due to the way your arms swing, they shouldn’t be a particular area of soreness. 

If your shoulders are causing you discomfort while you jog or run, there are many ways to deal with this depending on the reason behind the soreness.

Here, Andreas Anastasiou, a physiotherapist at Flexology Studio, takes us through eight reasons why your shoulders might be sore while running and solutions for dealing with each problem.

1. You’re over-doing it

The problem

Anastasiou explains that shoulder pain while running is most common for beginners. “People often push themselves and do too much too soon,” he explains. Your entire body will feel the effects of pushing yourself too hard and it’s really important with running to build your ability up gradually. Shoulder pain is also common for those who have taken a break from running and come back to it.

The solution

Reduce the amount of running you’re doing and the distance you’re running and gradually build up your volume and distance. Don’t start running again until your shoulder pain stops and if it continues for more than a week, seek professional help to ensure you are not injured.

2. You have an issue with your lower body

The problem

Often shoulder pain while running is a result of issues with your lower body, according to Anastasiou. “Problems including Achilles tendonitis in your lower body or a swollen ankle can cause you to lean to one side, which will mean your body is out of line, putting pressure on your neck,” he explains. This could lead to shoulder pain in one or both of your shoulders.

The solution

Figure out which part of your lower body is causing the issue and seek professional help if you are injured. You can also do some strengthening exercises like heel raises to strengthen your calves. Anastasiou recommends practising eccentric training if the issue is tendonitis in order to lengthen and strengthen your muscles, which will help with strength and flexibility.

3. Your posture is incorrect

The problem

Many people struggle with bad posture and it’s particularly important to work on that as a runner, as it could be causing problems like shoulder pain. “People with desk jobs often have kyphotic posture, which means the spine is more rounded than usual,” Anastasiou explains. “When you’re in that position while running, your shoulders and arms have limited mobility which means your upper body has to work much harder.”

The solution

There are many exercises that will help you improve your posture, including chin tucks and planks. You can also invest in a posture correcting brace which will make your back straighter, supporting your shoulders while running.

4. You’re holding tension in your upper-body

The problem

Often people use running as a way to relieve stress, which is great. However, it’s crucial to ensure that you’re not holding tension in your body during your run. “People don’t realise they might be holding their shoulders up or clenching their jaw, both of which could lead to severe shoulder pain while running,” Anastasiou says.

The solution

“Be mindful of any tension you’re holding before and during your run,” Anastasiou advises. He explains that it will take a while to understand where you are holding tension but the most important thing is to try and be conscious of it while exercising. You could also try a body scan or neck stretches to relieve tension before and after your run.

5. You need to work on your arm swing

The problem

People swing their arms during running in all kinds of different ways (remember Phoebe from Friends’ infamous run?). Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how you should move your arms while running, there are some mistakes you could be making that might be putting pressure on your shoulders. “People often swing their arms across their body which can become a problem,” Anastasiou says, explaining that you put more pressure on your chest by running like this, which could lead to you overextending your shoulders.

The solution

“Your arms should be at a kind of 90-degree angle,” Anastasiou says.“Try to maintain that upright posture, keep your chest out and pin back your shoulder blades, which will allow your arms to move forwards and backwards rather than across.”

You can film yourself running or ask a friend or trainer to look at your arm swing if you’re not sure where you’re going wrong.

6. You have an underlying injury

The problem

Shoulder pain could, of course, be as a result of an underlying injury. The injury could be anywhere in your body, not just your shoulders. Because running engages your entire body, if there is an issue with one part of your body, it could affect your posture or the pressure you put on other muscles, leading to neck and shoulder pain.

The solution

If your shoulder pain continues, it might be worth getting any previous injuries looked at by a professional. From there you can do strengthening exercises to build your injured body part back up, which should eventually stop your shoulder pain.

7. You’re wearing the wrong shoes

The problem

We all know how important it is to find the right running shoes and protecting your shoulders is no exception to this. If your shoes aren’t the right fit for you, they could be causing you to put pressure on one side of your body or negatively affecting your posture, which might lead to shoulder pain.

The solution

Get your gait analysed to ensure you find the perfect running shoes for you. Ensure you tell the experts who measure your feet about your shoulder pain so they can take this into account when finding the correct shoes.

8.You need to switch up your running route

The problem

Anastasiou explains that running the same route regularly could be the cause of your shoulder pain. “The pavement might be slightly tilted one way which means you might be putting more stress on your right leg, for example, leading to pain in your left shoulder,” he says.

The solution

Switch up your route regularly and try to avoid sloped pavements and hills if your shoulder pain continues.

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