Neck and shoulder pain is all too common in today’s world as more and more people spend countless hours everyday in front of a computer or cellphone. Fortunately, everything is connected so by learning how to position the rest of your body, you can help relieve your neck and shoulder pain at home. One thing you must understand about muscle pain is that often you feel it in a different place from where the problem stems from. A pain in the back or neck, for example, may be caused by constriction in the buttocks, abdomen, or leg.
“Referred pain” is the term used for this situation because the constriction refers pain to another part of the body. This is because all of your muscles are connected by fascia, the soft tissue between muscles and skin. The group of fascia that runs from the top of your head, down the entire back side of your body to your feet, is called the superficial back line. It’s what keeps you standing upright. Misalignment or restriction anywhere along the superficial back line can manifest as neck and shoulder pain.
Common Causes of Neck and Back Pain
Lifestyle in the modern world leads to stresses on the body that our ancestors and other cultures don’t experience. These contemporary circumstances require cognizance and diligence to avoid the undue strain they cause.
1. Tech Neck (forward head posture)
You know what this is: looking at a radiant screen for many hours each day puts our bodies in an unnatural position. Working at a computer, looking down at a smartphone or tablet, watching television and gaming (and usually while sitting) makes up almost 70% of the typical American adult’s waking life. (1) How we sit is often not ergonomic; the tendency is to lean the head forward to engage in these activities. This posture stretches neck extensors, weakens neck flexors, and adds 60 pounds of pressure to the neck and upper back. According to the University Health Service at the University of Michigan:
“These practices can lead to cumulative trauma disorders or repetitive stress injuries, which create a life-long impact on health. Symptoms may include pain, muscle fatigue, loss of sensation, tingling and reduced performance.” (2)
In addition to localized pain, a forward head posture can cause headaches, affect respiratory function, disturb balance in standing and walking, and reduce cognitive abilities as we age. (3, 4, 5)
Tech neck afflicts all age demographics, including children and adolescents who should be free of stress-related pain. (6) It’s been found that teens’ extensive use of technology leads to neuromusculoskeletal changes and misaligned posture. (7)
Proper posture is key to avoiding the stress put on the neck. Be mindful of your head position when you sit and walk, keeping it in line with your shoulders so the spine remains straight. (8) If you work at a computer, take frequent breaks to walk around.
2. Forward Reach (rounded shoulder posture)
Actions that pull your arms forward like driving, cooking, keyboarding, and use of electronic devices tend to round the shoulders, tightening the chest and weakening back muscles.
Strengthen back muscles, specifically the trapezius and rhomboids of the upper back and lattisimus dorsi on the sides. You may try a seated row for the traps and rhomboids and arched back pull-ups for the lats. Click here for lots of stretches for the whole body with pictures of the engaged muscle groups.
Emotional stress wreaks havoc on the body. Stress releases hormones that put the body into overdrive and without a physical means to release the stress, it gets internalized. Many people hold their stress in their backs, causing muscle knots and pain.