5 Tips for Conquering Muscle Tension in Your Neck and Shoulders
Sore neck, tight shoulders, and a headache that won’t quit – we’ve all been there and we’re all experiencing it with stress, constant sitting, and looking down at our phones. Usually, we don’t have the time in our busy schedules to relax, let alone schedule an hour or two for a massage either. Check out the blog below for reasons this tension may be happening to you, how to avoid it, and keep it all under control.
Muscle tightness within the neck and shoulders has a close correlation to headaches and nothing kills your good mood like a pulsing headache. And worse, that same tension won’t just subside on its own. Whether it’s a compress and rest or a deep-tissue massage, you’ll have to take action to feel some relief. Below are some sure-fire ways to lessen those everyday pains.
Try a Compress and a Nap
As mentioned, sometimes the best medicine is to just relax, take it easy, and let your muscles repair themselves. This is especially important if your tension is occurring a few days following a strenuous exercise. A warm and cold, alternating compress can help to increase blood flow to the injured area while reducing inflammation that can cause the sensation of tightness as well. And though rest is pretty self-explanatory -- read a good book, watch your favorite show, or put on your favorite song and just take it easy while your muscles unwind.
This may seem difficult if your muscles are already tight and sore but trust us, the tension won’t solve itself if you’re never moving around. While a few days of rest can be beneficial to your mental and physical state, limit it to that because a sedentary lifestyle will take a larger toll on your body than you think. If you’ve ever had a lazy weekend of just sitting on the couch and you notice your legs are actually sore from sitting so much, that’s exactly what’s happening every day if you’re not exercising or getting in your daily steps. While we don’t expect you to do a full-body workout every day, an hour or two of physical activity will actually be more rewarding for you over time than to do nothing at all.
Stretch from Head-to-Toe
Stretching is important for so many reasons – mobility and flexibility to name a few. But stretching allows your muscle fibers to elongate, letting them expand and move around to keep the tension at bay. Below are a few stretches you can try for both your neck and shoulder muscles.
- Active Balasana Pose (Active Child’s Pose)
Perfect for triggering back, shoulder, and neck tension, this pose is a staple position used in yoga and helps to improve the mind-body connection. If you feel fatigued or anxious, the calming properties of this pose may be perfect for you, even if you’re not preparing for a workout. To start, kneel with your knees together. Lower your bottom to your feet and place your forehead on the mat before you. Outstretch your arms in front of you and slowly lift your hips and bottom until you feel a slight stretch at your shoulder blades. Slowly lower your bottom to your feet and hold the position. You should feel a nice stretch along your spine and shoulders.
- Shoulder Raises and Rolls
Targeting your shoulder muscles, these simple stretches get your muscles moving and can help to free up any knots that may be developing in your shoulders. Shoulder raises are exactly like the shrug movement one makes when saying “I don’t know.” Simply raise and lower your shoulders in a shrug movement to stretch the sides of the neck and shoulders. Shoulder rolls are similar but instead of the strictly up-and-down motion, bring your shoulders up, back, down, and forward in a circular motion. This will not only loosen the muscles at the base of the neck and shoulders but allows a gentle stretch of the pectorals as well. Continue these rolls in alternating directions for improved mobility in your shoulders.
- Head Tilts – Ear-to-Shoulder
This stretch can be done anywhere – the park, the gym, at work… you name it! Simply tilt your head down towards your shoulder while remaining in good form throughout your back. You’ll bring your ear to your shoulder and feel a good stretch in the opposite side of your neck. Hold for a few seconds and alternate between left and right.
- Over-the-Head Stretch
You do it every morning when you wake up, might as well do it again in the middle of your day. Raise your arms and clasp your hands over your head. Outstretch your arms upwards and lean your torso slowly from side to side, or forwards and backwards. You’ll feel a good stretch along your sides, back, and shoulders.
Just like trigger points, acupuncture points, or meridians, lie all over the body and share an interconnected flow. Targeting tension points through acupuncture can loosen blocked Chi to improve the energetic flow that keeps the body in perfect balance. These blockages can be connected to other parts of the body, much like seen in the practice of reflexology. Because some areas are linked to deeper rooted systems, treating a superficial area on the body can improve a muscle group or system deep within the body without invasive therapies.
Acupuncturists will use their knowledge and your feedback to determine which areas should be treated to knock out pains within the body. Specifically, for sciatic nerve pain, acupuncture points lie within the sacral and lumbar regions in the back while some also reside in the feet and legs. The act requires the use of fine needles in the top layer of the skin. Most meridians lie closer to the surface so there is little need to insert the needle farther into the tissue. During the appointment, your practitioner may twist the needles or heat them before use to better suit you and your pain relief needs.
Get a Massage – Even at Home
While some may have time to schedule an hour-long shiatsu massage every week, some of us carry way too hectic of a schedule to maintain that over extended periods of time. When you’re in need of quick pain and tension relief solutions, try trigger point massage therapy. This massage therapy uses incremental pressure to relieve knotted muscles, improving overall muscle movement. When neck and scalp muscles are contracting, headaches and migraines are often biproducts of that developing tension. To loosen these knots, try massaging in circular motions and holding steady pressure on either side of the spine at the base of the skull where it meets the neck. Another trigger point lives in the shoulders, between the neck and shoulder blade. When you shrug upwards, you should feel a dip in the shoulder. This dip is where you will apply steady pressure to relieve knotted shoulder muscles. We recommend using a massage tool that can precisely target these knots while still being easy to use anywhere you go.
Ways to Curb ‘Tech Neck’ for Good
Limit “Tech Neck” – As discussed by Heathline, Matthew Cooper, DC, CCSP, and chiropractor explains ‘tech neck’ as a “result[s] from the body position we often subconsciously assume when looking at screens. In this position, your chin comes forward, your shoulders round forward, and often your neck is flexed to look down at your phone, keyboard, and/or computer for an extended period of time.” To avoid this conundrum, limit your screen time if possible. Spend less time on your phone, iPad, etc. and more time getting active. Because most of us work nearly 8 hours a day, you can take a few breaks here and there to move your neck, shoulders, and legs around to loosen up tension but also get your creative juices flowing again.
If you must be at your computer for work, consider adjusting your workspace to better suit your body’s needs. Try positioning your computer and desk space at a level that does not require you to sacrifice your proper posture. And if you’re really dedicated to the cause, try a standing desk that not only allows you to position the desk height exactly where you need it, but can also keep you active by standing rather than sedentarily sitting all day in your chair!
Tension, headaches, and sore muscles are things we’re all well-acquainted with but that does not mean we have to limit ourselves when these instances occur. Take the necessary steps – breaks, exercises, stretches, massages – it takes to relieve your pain as quickly and easy as possible so you can get right back 100% in the blink of an eye!
Cassata, Cathy. "4 Simple Tips to Avoid Developing 'Tech Neck' During COVID-19." Edited by Dana K. Cassell. Healthline, 13 Oct. 2020, www.healthline.com/health-news/4-simple-tips-to-avoid-developing-tech-neck-during-covid-19#3.-Take-breaks. Accessed 2 Apr. 2021.
Cronkleton, Emily. "12 Stretches to Help Relieve Tight Shoulders." Edited by Suzanne Falck, M.D. Healthline, 12 Sept. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/tight-shoulders#causes. Accessed 2 Apr. 2021.
Sinay, Danielle. "Is Acupuncture the Miracle Remedy for Everything?" Healthline, 18 Sept. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/acupuncture-how-does-it-work-scientifically. Accessed 2 Apr. 2021.