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Addressing Neck and Shoulder Cramps

BY Hal Higdon

Cramping affects most runners, but what if it is your upper body that is the problem? Hal Higdon offers his suggestions to one runner experiencing cramps in his shoulders and neck.

Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I like to think I have fairly spot on form while running, but I always get cramps in my neck and shoulder area. Am I running correctly? What could be the cause of these cramps?


Form may or may not have anything to do with your cramps, but let’s address that issue first. To check your form, have someone use a hand-held device to video you while running. Do this several times in the middle and toward the end of an actual workout when you are warmed-up and are running smoothly. If you can time it just before and after the cramps develop that would be best.

Replay the video and see if you notice any form twitches that might not be what you call spot on. Your best option would be to hire a coach, who might have better knowledge of form along with better video equipment.

My best guess, however, is that form may be only part of the problem. Even though it might not show in a form analysis, you could be running “tight”. Meaning that all of the muscles of your neck and shoulders are tightening and eventually cramping as mile piles upon mile. How can you cure this? Again, a good coach might help. You need someone who could suggest a few relaxation drills based on what they see.

In the meantime, here are few tips that may help. Keep your gaze straight ahead, focused perhaps 10 meters down the road. Every now and then loosen your neck muscles by rotating your head in circles, up and down. Invent your own stretching exercises, whatever feels good. Don’t overlook the arms. Every now and then and as you feel the cramps begin to develop, drop your wrists by your side and shake them out.

Strengthening and stretching the muscles around your shoulders and neck might be another solution. I hate to keep referring you to expensive professionals, but here is where a physical therapist could help. So might a massage therapist.

Work on all these suggested areas, and I am hopeful that you eventually will be able to cure your cramping problems.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.