Q+A: I’m 17 and running gives me growing pains…

Q I’m a 17-year-old middle-distance runner. Last year I started growing really fast and reached 6ft 6in. Now I regularly experience pains in my upper arms, hamstrings and thighs after harder runs. My GP says I should stretch more, while my coach thinks they’re growing pains. What do you think?

A The problem may well be due to your sudden growth. Not all parts of the body grow at a constant rate, and it is possible that your nerves are taking longer to develop than some of your other structures, which may account for your leg and arm pains. In addition, during growth spurts, your muscles may not have time to accommodate to your new limb lengths and may require extra time to become strong enough to stabilise your pelvis and shoulders during running at higher speeds. If this is the case, you can get symptoms similar to yours from the extra pressure on the nerves, which stronger muscles would normally protect.

The answer in these cases is to perform stretches for the nerves. Try this stretch for the nerve in the back of your legs (the sciatic nerve). Sit up straight on a bench with your legs hanging down and your feet relaxed – let your arms hang at your sides. Gently tuck your chin towards your chest and ‘slump’ forward. Now straighten your left knee, and flex your left ankle, pulling your toes towards you. Keeping everything else still, gently move your left leg and foot towards the right leg until you feel tension. Repeat 24 times before changing legs. Try to find a physio with knowledge of nerve stretching for further exercises – you should also do some for the nerves in your upper back and neck to help with the arm pains.

Your arm pains could also be caused by your height. It’s not unusual for tall people to have postural problems, which can lead to discomfort. Work at correcting your posture at all times so that you are more ‘in balance’. This should reduce the pressure on your nerves and muscles when running, and during other activities.

However if the problem persists, it may be worth checking with your GP, and asking for an x-ray and blood tests to check that there are no clinical problems in your spine.—Martin Haines, chartered physiotherapist and sports medicine specialist