Highway to Health

Runner's Neck

Let me begin by saying doctors are stupid. Don't argue with me—they are. They're dopes. Anyone can be a doctor; you just have to be good at remembering a bunch of stuff. It's like, 'Oh, Hi. I'm a dick doctor, and guess what? Your dick is bent. That'll be 78 thousand dollars, please.' But here's my main problem with doctors: they don't respect the body's kinetic chain. They don't see the human anatomy as one unit. To them, it's a bunch of unrelated components, and they specialize in one to the complete exclusion of the others. Go to your doctor with a sore neck, and he'll tell you your spinal canal is narrowing, or you've got a 'degenerative disc,' or your ribs are made of chocolate, or whatever. They'll never say, 'You know what, I think you just need to stretch and a nice big cry.' You gotta stretch! Especially if you're a runner. 

Photography & Video: Ben Murphy / Model: Sam

Before we get into these exercises, let's quickly talk about running form. Generally, form for you is whatever feels right; however, clenching your fists and hunching your shoulders during a run will eventually cause pain somewhere, and probably in your neck and shoulders. To stop yourself clenching your fists, imagine you're gently holding a robin's egg in each hand (or something similarly fragile), and to stop hunching, imagine there's an invisible wire connected to your breastbone that is being towed up and forward by a drone or a very large bird (or just run upright with your shoulders back and your chest out). One of the best ways to adjust form is to run with people who have good form and copy them. That's what I did, and I got my form locked way before the restraining order arrived, so suck it, Robert de Castella.

Anyway, if you're reading this, you've probably already got a sore neck, so let's look at some stretches you can do to release the tension. There are a million different stiff neck stretches, but these are pretty good.

One of the best ways to adjust form is to run with people who have good form and copy them.


This is worth doing after every run (or every couple of runs) to ensure you're not tightening up through the back, shoulders, and neck. Stand with your legs hip-width apart, chest out, nice and tall, raise your arms over your head and grasp your elbows, inhale, and slowly hinge forward at the hips as you exhale. Keep your knees locked, legs straight, and hold your back flat. Come to a tabletop position and hold for three slow breaths before exhaling and letting yourself hang at the hips, using the weight of your head to pull you down and the weight in your heels to keep you anchored. 

After five breaths, let your elbows go and allow your arms to dangle down toward your feet. Let your head hang. Don't hold it and look at your feet, just let it hang. Put a slight bend in your knees for a deeper stretch through the back. This is a great way to release all the tension that runs through the legs and into your back and neck.

Forward-Bending Neck Stretch

For this one, stand tall with your back straight and slowly lower your head until your chin is resting on your chest. If you can't rest your chin on your chest, bring it as close as possible and hold the stretch for five seconds (hold longer if it feels good). 

You'll feel this stretch running from the base of your skull down the muscles on either side of your spine (from your trapezius to your rhomboids). After holding for five seconds, slowly bring your head up to rest before doing it again, and again, and again, or as many times as you like. Hot tip: inhale deeply before lowering your head with a long, slow exhale. This stretch can be reversed by letting your head slowly fall back so that you're looking at the ceiling. Hold for five. Release.

Lateral Neck Flex

Standing upright and tall, gently, slowly, gingerly, carefully bring your left ear toward your left shoulder. When you reach the full extension, hold for five seconds and then slowly, gently, carefully, gingerly bring your head back up. Check your posture and then lower your right ear to your left shoulder, etc, etc, etc. A variation of this one has you turning your head to look over your left shoulder, holding for five seconds, and then repeating on the other side. Pretty straightforward and actually pretty intuitive, right? Like, you'd probably know to do this without reading about it here. 

The key to these stretches, though, is breathing into them, taking big deep breaths and exhaling into the stretch. Close your eyes and try to enjoy the feeling of all your neck muscles fighting you.

Levator Scapulae Stretch

Your Levator Scapulae are two belts of muscle that run from the underside of your skull, down your spine, and across your shoulders to your scapula bones—or shoulder blades if you want to be all technical. When these guys get tight, it sucks. Here's how to loosen 'em up. 

Stand in front of a door in your home and place the palm of your right hand and forearm against the doorjamb. Your hand wants to be high enough that if you turn your head, you're looking at the halfway point between your writs and your elbow. Basically, you want your elbow above your shoulder. Now, turn your head to the left and down and try to touch your left nipple with your tongue. You don't have to do the tongue bit, but it'll help you get the right angle, so you may as well. Hold for five, then repeat on the other side. For added stretch, you can take your free hand and gently pull your head down toward that nipple.

So, there you have it, the cure for runner's neck. Check out this issue's Bullshit Report for additional information regarding stiffness and pain, and the origins 'pain in the neck' and 'pain in the ass'.