Jogging: Good or Bad for Neck Pain?
Most people will realize that starting on a high-impact jogging regime without proper warm-up, correct shoes, some level of fitness, and even a good sports bra for some, will lead to aches and pains, including pain in the neck. Clearly, this is not the best way to motivate yourself to continue to exercise. But does jogging itself cause neck pain, or can it actually help relieve it? Make sure you know when not to jog with neck pain and when it’s time to see your physician.
Those with specific anatomical abnormalities, such as a cervical rib causing compression in the brachial plexus or thoracic outlet, and indications of degenerative disc disease with bulging disc in neck or herniated discs are likely to experience some degree of pain from high impact sports including running or jogging. These patient populations may ‘discover’ their condition only after taking up jogging, having remained asymptomatic, or having not previously connected symptoms to such pathologies. If patients have numbness or poor circulation when raising their arms above their head, or if they experience persistent cramps and twinges of shoulder pain or radicular pain down the arm then they should have a thorough medical assessment prior to starting any new exercise, particularly contact sports or high impact sports.
Chronic Pain on the Increase
Scientists back in 1978 connected incidences of neuropathy with the jogging craze, and predicted it to increase as more people took up the activity (Massey, 1978). Musculoskeletal issues are indeed on the rise with three quarters of Americans thought to experience chronic neck pain or chronic pain of some other type at some point in their lives. Often this is attributable to inactivity, and general lack of fitness with lazy, weak, and atrophied muscles unable to support the body effectively, and the Western diet which is often replete with pro-inflammatory substances such as animal products, trans fats, and simple sugars.
Compounding Benefits of Jogging
One thing we touched on previously at PainNeck.com is the association between being overweight and experiencing increased neck pain. Adipose tissue (fat) increases pain signal transmission and activity, so losing weight through jogging not only reduces chronic pain associated with carrying that extra weight, and increases endorphins as nature’s own analgesic, it also lowers the pain signals themselves, making jogging a triple bonus for exercise and weight management as concerns neck pain (Wilmore, 1980). Getting out and about in the sunshine will also increase your vitamin D synthesis, which can also help with musculoskeletal issues as well as improving the mood and immune system function. Recent studies have shown that low vitamin D levels result in a poorer outcome after back surgery.
Increasing Upper Body Strength
Research into upper body strength training has demonstrated the importance of being in good physical condition in order to stave off injuries associated with neck pain and other musculoskeletal problems. Andersen (2008) found that specific resistance training, and an all-round physical exercise program reduced the incidence of neck pain in participants in comparison with the usual intervention involving general health counseling. By increasing the strength and health of the shoulder, back, and core muscles, the patients had better tissue oxygenation, and improved pain-reduction at long-term follow-up consultation. The improvement in cardiorespiratory health that results from jogging also has benefits for improved tissue repair if injuries are incurred (Milburn, 1983).
Jogging and Neck Surgery
It may be then that preceding jogging with a short, and supervised regime of weight lifting could help to stave off injury and neck pain when you do commence your jogging program. However, for those who have recently had neck surgery (surgery on the cervical spine), or incurred an injury to the area, they should avoid both weight-lifting and jogging until cleared by their physician. Other activities that are likely to be advised against whilst recovering include:
- Leg lifts when lying on your stomach
- Sit-ups with straight legs (rather than bent knees)
Tips for Pain Free Jogging
If you do take up jogging then some tips to make it healthier for your neck and back, and reduce the likelihood of neck pain whilst jogging include keeping a watchful eye on your posture. This is particularly important when running either up or down hills as most people tend to lean back when running downhill which can put strain on the back. Ensuring that you keep your head level and looking forward, rather than looking down when jogging means that undue strain on the neck is less likely to happen.
Taking care to warm up correctly is very important, with simple neck strengthening exercises preparing the muscles for activity and getting the circulation going. Warming up the shoulders and arms are key to preventing strains and neck pain when jogging, and having a natural arm swing, rather than a rigid arm-pumping action will help prevent muscular aches, stiffness, and cramps in the shoulders causing neck and shoulder pain.
Starting a Jogging Regime
If you haven’t jogged before then take care to start slowly, with intervals of a couple of minutes walking followed by a minute of jogging. Then, gradually increase the jogging periods until you’re sprinting out the front door raring to go. If you experience neck pain at any point then slow things down and continue walking until you feel comfortable trying jogging again. Those who have suffered whiplash in the past may find that jogging can exacerbate an underlying fracture or bulging disc that had become asymptomatic, so exercise caution before cautiously exercising.
Neck Pain, Jogging, Fibromyalgia, and Exercising Caution
Other spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and spondylolisthesis may be benefited by a fairly sedate jogging regime, as can conditions such as fibromyalgia, with studies showing that exercise can reduce fibromyalgia symptoms such as neck pain. Combining a jogging regime with activities such as yoga, strength-training, and neck strengthening exercises is likely to reduce the risk of injury, improve core strength, and facilitate a faster recovery should injury occur. Patients are advised to visit their doctor prior to any new exercise to ensure good enough health for that particular activity and to reduce the risk of neck pain when jogging.