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5 Simple Movements to Reduce Neck and Shoulder Tension

Posted 1/25/2017 by UHBlog

Is the stress in your life causing your trapezius muscles to “trap” aches and pains? We'll teach you ways to manage stress and live more resiliently.

5 Simple Movements to Reduce Neck and Shoulder Tension

If you constantly feel like there's a weight on your shoulder or tightness in your upper back, arms and neck, it could be your response to stress and anxiety. A lot of people end up getting deep, achy shoulder and neck pain, says yoga therapist and meditation instructor Dawn Miller, MA.

“When we're stressed, we tend to tense our shoulders and lift them up slightly to our ears,” she says. “A lot of my patients – both men and women – complain about upper back, neck and shoulder pain.”

While stress is often the culprit for neck and shoulder tension, other factors can contribute to your aches and pains, including:

  • Telephone usage. “Your neck and shoulder position while holding a phone can cause stiffness,” Miller says. “Try using a headset or an over-the-ear piece.”
  • Bags and laptops. Heavy purses, briefcases and laptop bags are often positioned over one shoulder, which creates asymmetry in your posture.
    “How we carry around our belongings can result in neck and shoulder tension,” she says. “Try balancing it out by putting straps over both shoulders or choosing another bag.”
  • Mattresses and pillows. Your mattress and pillow configuration can lead to a crick in your neck. Miller recommends choosing the most supportive materials for the way you sleep. For instance, if you're a side or back sleeper, use a pillow designed for those positions.
  • Desks and chairs. According to Miller, for many people the way their workspace is configured leads to accumulated neck and shoulder tension. If you spend a good portion of your day using a computer and sitting in an office, focus on your alignment in relation to your computer, keyboard, desk height and chair. Any or all of these could be ergonomically incorrect.
    “Many workplaces don't have ergonomic set-ups, causing us to put our arms and shoulders in a position where they are up too high,” she says. “We tend to stay in that position for hours upon hours, day after day, which triggers pain.”

To eliminate or reduce neck and/or shoulder tension, Miller suggests five movements to try:

  1. Shoulder rolls: Rolling your shoulders - both forward and backward - will help relieve tightness and strain and get your circulation flowing. You can also do one shoulder at a time.
    “When I teach this in classes, people aren't aware of how tension-relieving this exercise can be,” she says.
  2. Tennis ball massages: Standing with your back to a wall, place a tennis ball between your shoulders. Use the wall and slight movements to roll the ball between your shoulders and up along your neck to soften the tension you're feeling.
  3. Seated cat-cow stretches: With your palms resting face down on your thighs, you lift your chest up and forward as you inhale. Then, do the counter movement by tucking your chin, belly and shoulder blades on the exhale.
  4. Seated twists: Scoot forward in the chair and sit tall. Take a deep breath in and with your spine lengthened, twist to one side while turning your head in the opposite direction. Exhale and return to the center. Repeat the exercise on the opposite side.
  5. Progressive relaxation exercises: Purposely create tension by scrunching and tensing up your entire body from your feet to your shoulders as you inhale. Then breathe out with a big sigh to release the tension. This activates your nervous system while providing relaxation and relief.

In addition to these movements, it's important to stay hydrated.

“Keeping hydrated helps your body's fascia connective tissue to glide and slide as it should, and not get sticky and adhere to itself,” Miller says.

For different modalities and classes designed to help you manage stress that lead to aches, pains and tension, visit University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network website or call 216-285-4070.

Dawn Miller, MA is a certified yoga therapist, registered Viniyoga yoga teacher, Stress Management & Resilience Training (S.M.A.R.T.™) instructor and meditation instructor at University Hospitals Connor Integrative Health Network. You can Request an Appointment with Miller or any other health care provider online.

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