With the London Marathon just around the corner, some of us will be cranking up our exercise in a big way over the next few weeks. Once upon a time, that was me. I ran the London Marathon in 2003. And I must say I loved the experience – although I haven’t forgotten the excruciating effort involved in all those hours of training.
When it comes to pain and running, knees are the obvious problem area. But of course they aren’t the only body parts that can suffer during extended exercise. In clinic, I sometimes hear my running patients mention painful shoulders. It’s a less common complaint, certainly. But it does happen.
So what’s going on?
The answer requires a little biology. At the very top of your arm is that familiar ‘ball-and-socket’ joint, the ball part being known as the humeral head. When you run, the humeral head rides up against another area called the ‘rotator cuff’; this is a tightly-packed set of muscles that sits around your shoulder joints like the cuff of a shirt. Now if something happens to those muscles – let’s say you suffer an ‘impingement’ injury, where they catch against underlying tissue or bone – then your body will start warning you something has gone awry. The obvious time it will do this is during strenuous exercise; the impact jolts passing through your feet and up your body could be the trigger for irritation. It’s just possible that the sprinting or jogging action itself – where your arms are pumping up and down, with repetitive forward flexion – could predispose you to a shoulder condition. But in practice, it’s likely that pain during running is an alert for a problem that’s already there.
What can I do about it?
If your shoulder pain is related to an underlying condition, the short answer is that you’ll need to get it checked out by a GP or physiotherapist. On the other hand, if your symptoms are relatively new and benign, there are a number of things you might do to address the issue in the short term. One is to work on your posture. Office jobs can often contribute to rigidity and tension in the shoulders. This might be causing you to tuck in the shoulder blades as you jog, pulling them away from their natural running position. So try consciously to relax your shoulder muscles; some people like to shake their arms from time to time to loosen tension. Another short-term modification you could try is to alter your running routes. Consider reducing the distance a little, or avoiding major inclines on your route, to see if the pain improves. Overall I’d say a mixture of on-road and off-road running is a great way to build up strength and recruit different kinds of muscles across your body, but if you are carrying an injury then it would be best to stick to flat surfaces – or even a treadmill – until the symptoms improve.
In need of in-depth advice about your shoulders? We are always happy to investigate any problems you might be experiencing. Just click on the link to make contact and we will be glad to help.