Sometimes a great session of cardio can leave your muscles feeling achy and sore. But have you ever noticed that your neck may hurt too – especially if you are using a treadmill? Why is that? With a treadmill, there’s no risk of getting caught in bad weather, slipping and sliding on ice, or dodging dogs or traffic. Plus, treadmills offer other advantages over road running, such as the mechanical ability to monitor your speed, distance, heart rate and calories burned. And besides, treadmills are intuitive, right? Simply set the controls, step on up and go on your way. So how can your treadmill be causing your neck pain? Here’s why this can happen, and ways to prevent your treadmill workouts from becoming a pain in the neck.
Alignment is Key
Your stance on the treadmill may be doing you more harm than good, especially when it comes to how posture can affect your neck. After all, many people don’t realize that their walking or running posture changes when they use a treadmill. The most common posture mistakes people make when using a treadmill include:
- Staring down – Checking distance and calories burned, how many times do you glance at the controls on your treadmill? You may spend time adjusting the machine as you push harder or let up on your workout; you also may be keeping an eye on your feet so you don’t slip. Starting down is not natural when it comes to running on a treadmill.
- “Tech Neck” – Running on a treadmill provides the stability and balance that allows us to multi-task by catching up on text messages, social media, or streaming our favorite shows on your phone or tablet. When this happens, there is a tendency to overextend the neck, looking too high or low; this condition is referred to as “tech neck” and is a very common condition seen by orthopedists of their highly connected patients.
- Shoulder Position – When you are running outside, your gait is probably quite natural and aligned. But you may not notice that when you are on a treadmill, oftentimes your shoulders start to rise up, forcing your neck down, like a turtle. This causes strain on your neck, shoulders and spine.
Preventing Neck Pain
If the treadmill is a dedicated part of your workout routine but neck pain is causing you to reconsider your choice of cardio machine, hang in there! Small changes to how you use the treadmill can do wonders to reduce your neck pain. Try these helpful tips to keep your treadmill routine enjoyable, beneficial and pain-free.
- Warm Up – Start any workout, even a light walk on a treadmill, with stretching and warm-up exercises. There is no better way to get your blood circulating and loosen up tight muscles, especially in your neck.
- Know your Posture –Once warmed up, be conscious about your posture. Ensure your neck is aligned with your spine. Choose a treadmill near a mirror so you can monitor your posture and neck position. (If you have a home gym, consider adding a mirror near the treadmill.)
- Nix the Phone – Instead of focusing on your phone (or for the old-school folks, the newspaper or a book), try focusing straight ahead in a natural stance, the same as you would if you were running or walking on a road. If there is a television at eye-level, watch that; or listen to music or Podcasts to keep your mind engaged, but your neck free from looking down.
- Focus on Technique – Just as you would running, focus on your technique. Ask a trainer to monitor you for any changes that can improve your stance and reduce risk of injury. Shoulders and neck should be relaxed, the spine aligned, your eyes should be forward and your gait natural.
- Adjust the Machinery – Unless the treadmill is ergonomically set up specifically for you, you may be reaching too high or low, forcing your shoulders out of alignment, causing upper back and neck pain. Take a moment to adjust the controls on any machine you use at the gym; remember an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
If you experience neck pain and want to explore what the cause is, consider visiting the experts at the Spine Academy of Orthopedic Associates of Central Maryland. Our experienced spine specialists are trained and ready to treat a variety of orthopedic conditions and injuries, including neck pain. Don’t let your workouts become a pain in the neck. Call Orthopedic Associates of Central Maryland at 410-644-1880 to make an appointment today.