Is It Normal to Feel Upper Back Pain After Running?

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Running is one of the oldest and simplest exercises that boost cardiovascular fitness. It can even be done anytime and anywhere even with just a few pieces of equipment. But if the back or other parts of the body ache after running, then there might be something wrong with your posture or body.

So what does it mean when you have upper back pain after running? Lots of runners experience upper and middle back pain because of the stress exerted on the spine. But people with poor posture while running are more likely to feel worse upper back pain that lasts longer. In addition to poor posture, upper back pain after running may also be a result of spinal misalignment, an old injury, muscle strain, or improper bra fit.

Why You Experience Upper Back Pain From Running

It’s common for runners to have pain and discomfort around their upper back because it’s between the neck, lower back, and shoulder blades. This condition can be mild to severe – worsening whenever an individual breathes deeply or moves a certain way. It can also feel like general muscle tightness or a sharp, stabbing pain.

According to a study about thoracic spine pain, about 15% to 19% of people experience chronic pain in the upper back. Although its prevalence isn’t as common as lower back pain, thoracic spine pain can be just as disabling – especially if they’re related to muscle, joint, and spinal issues or other health conditions. 

Mild to moderate upper and middle back pain is quite common among runners because they experience more stress on their back as an impact of running. If you’re experiencing upper back pain during and after a run, then here are some possible reasons:

1) Poor Posture

Posture problems are the top reason why lots of runners experience neck pain, upper back pain, and low back pain. Incorrect head posture due to slouching is something that people unconsciously do regularly, but it can also affect the way they run.

Sitting for long periods when working, driving, or even lounging has a negative effect on the thoracic spine health – leading to muscle asymmetry and imbalance. Over time, the muscles around the chest tighten while the muscles in the back weaken, decreasing the mobility of the rib cage and resulting in breathing issues. 

Running takes a toll on the legs so appropriate running mechanics should be followed to minimize the impact – but the same is also true for the upper back. The thoracic spine becomes painful because of the added stress on the slouched spine structure. So when the slouching or forward head posture is fixed, then the rest of the body also follows the correct position for running.

2) Spinal Conditions

Aside from poor posture, having a spinal condition can also compromise an individual’s range of motion and affect their recovery time. Running without the right precautions only triggers chronic back pain and worsens the spinal condition – it might even result in accidents and injuries.

If you also experience upper back pain whenever you run, then here are some underlying spinal conditions that might be causing it:

  • Spinal stenosis – This condition refers to the narrowing of the space in the spine, which compresses the nerve roots and spinal cord. It’s often age-related, but younger individuals may also acquire it. Some symptoms of spinal stenosis include numbness, tingling, and weakness of the limbs.
  • Pinched nerve (or cervical radiculopathy) – A compressed or pinched nerve occurs when there’s too much pressure applied to a nerve root by the surrounding tendons, muscles, bones, or cartilage. A nerve that’s only pinched for a short time doesn’t result in permanent damage, but continuous pressure may eventually lead to neurological symptoms and chronic pain. 

3) Old Injury or Trauma

Sometimes, old trauma or injury may still cause mild to severe pain for decades. If the patient had injuries on their upper back before, then there’s a chance that running and other physical activities may trigger the painful symptom like before.

A prior injury to the thoracic spine or the upper back area damages the skeletal or muscular system – especially if it’s treated late or incorrectly. This increases the individual’s chances of developing arthritis, getting injured again or experiencing chronic pain in their upper back.

Ignoring upper back pain from an old injury may lead to worse consequences, so it’s crucial to get it checked and treated right away. Physical therapy works wonders for patients who want to alleviate discomfort and strengthen their upper back.

4) Muscle Strain

Muscle overuse is also another possible reason why patients experience upper back pain when running. Stretching and warming up are crucial so tight muscles like the hamstring, piriformis muscle, and back muscle can manage the added stress and pressure of running.

Repetitive actions may cause muscle irritation, tightness, and strain, which may develop into chronic pain if continuously ignored. To strengthen the muscles and prevent pain, a physical therapist may recommend stretching exercises that promote flexibility in the problem areas.

5) Bra Fit in Women

Another possible cause of upper back pain for women when they run is wearing bras that don’t properly fit. Workout clothes might not be a consideration or priority for some people, but women should know how to choose a sports bra that helps them maintain a good posture. A good sports bra also gives them additional support for their upper body as they run.

There are lots of possible factors why women don’t know how to pick a good sports bra, but using the correct one offers a lot of benefits. Wearing something too big won’t give the patient enough support but something too small might restrict their movement. Women should have a proper bra fitting at least once, as well as a refit if they lost or gained 10 to 15 pounds. 

If you think you’re wearing the wrong bra size, then here are some signs to check:

  • The bra rides up on the back
  • The bra straps dig into the skin
  • There are no signs of cleavage or side boobs

When is Running Good for Upper Back Pain?

Running is a simple form of exercise that offers lots of health benefits – including improved mental health, enhanced cardiovascular fitness, strengthened abdominal muscles, and more. But people with already existing back pain are skeptical about trying this exercise out of fear that they might only worsen their condition.

But the good news is that running, along with other aerobic exercises, can be an effective form of treatment for low back pain. It can also have the same effects of strengthening the thoracic spine and the muscles around it – as long as done in the right way and with caution.

Running is particularly helpful for patients who have mechanical back pain, which means that their spine is structurally normal and that their condition is caused by other factors. It can help strengthen their core muscles and even decrease their overall pain. Just always remember to always warm up and wear the right gear when running to avoid accidents.

How to Prevent Upper Back Pain When Running

Our spines are meant to support our bodies as we move in different directions. So when the upper back hurts after simple activities like running, then there might be something wrong with the spine, muscles, or posture. To prevent triggering upper back pain when running, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Always stretch before and after running to relieve muscle tightness
  • Run with caution and follow a “low and slow” method during the first running routine
  • Switch up different physical activities now and then by trying swimming, biking, or other aerobic activities
  • Wear the right gear when running, which may include the right type of comfortable shoes or a sports bra that fits nicely
  • Make sure to listen to the body and take some time off when the back pain starts flaring up

How Long Does Upper Back Pain Last After Running 

This depends on how severe the symptom is and its underlying cause. Acute upper back pain can last for a few hours or days even without intervention. Taking over-the-counter pain relief medications can help alleviate the pain, but they should only be taken as necessary.

Chronic pain triggered by running can take longer to subside. It can be a sign of a more serious health condition, so it’s best to consult a doctor immediately if the debilitating upper back pain persists for at least 15 days a month for at least 3 consecutive months.

At-Home Treatments for Upper Back Pain When Running

In most cases, patients rely on home treatments first for their upper back pain after running. Here are some of the most effective upper back pain relief treatments to try at home:

  • Sitting – Sitting is a major risk factor for neck, upper back, and shoulder pain, so it’s crucial to always maintain a proper posture whenever possible. Keep the knees below hip level and maintain a natural lumbar curve.
  • Kinesiological tape – This tape is typically used in sports medicine because it’s highly effective in treating upper back pain. It also offers additional support to the user and serves as a reminder to maintain proper posture at all times.
  • Stretches – Exercises and stretches are essential in strengthening the muscles and relieving the muscle spasm in the upper back. Foam roller stretches are the most effective for upper back pain, but make sure to perform them correctly to avoid injuring the back further.

How to Treat Upper Back Pain While Running at Gramercy Pain Center

If the upper back pain doesn’t improve even after trying treatments at home, then the underlying cause might be more serious than anticipated. Our pain management specialists at Gramercy Pain Center can help patients diagnose the reason why they feel severe upper back pain whenever they run. From there, we recommend some of the following treatment options to the patient:

  • PRP pain management – This regenerative medicine uses the growth factors derived from the patient’s platelet-rich plasma to accelerate healing and tissue regeneration.
  • Interventional pain management – This multimodal approach involves using different pain relief treatments to manage chronic pain symptoms and enhance the patient’s quality of life.
  • Steroid injections – This injectable treatment involves directly delivering the pain medication to the epidural space where the spinal nerves are. It’s a quick-acting treatment that offers long-lasting pain relief.

Get Fit Without Worrying About Back Pain with Gramercy Pain Center

Upper back pain can be triggered by a variety of things, including activities like bending over or running. If your thoracic spine pain prevents you from accomplishing daily tasks comfortably, then it’s time to see a doctor who can help determine your health condition and prescribe a personalized treatment plan.

At Gramercy Pain Center, we offer a wide variety of treatments that help patients alleviate their upper back pain so they won’t have to worry about it when running or exercising. Call us today to book a consultation.

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