How to Treat Neck & Shoulder Pain


Movements that support proper alignment in the neck and shoulders can alleviate neck and shoulder pain. Any severe or persistent pain needs professional consultation. As a person experiences pain, he tends to alter his movements to compensate. Long-term compensation affects muscles and eventually the tendons and joints of the skeletal system. Neck and shoulder pain can be apparent in healthy individuals with habitual movements, as well as those who have sustained a traumatic injury. Both necessitate using small, gentle movements to increase circulation and promote joint stabilization. Other methods to decrease pain in the neck and shoulders include manipulating the tissues with massage.

Take an account of the types of movements that occur throughout the day. Make a list of times and actions that increase pain. Make a log of the frequency you take medications. If the following exercises do not provide relief, this list will be helpful for your health care provider in determining the next course of action.

After identifying which activities might be contributing to your body's compensating (or holding to alleviate pain), adjust your body's alignment while performing these activities. For the neck and shoulders, simply roll both shoulders up and back so that the scapulae are moving down toward your hips. Shoulders move away from the ears to help support the best alignment. Extending the neck back as though reaching with the crown of the head toward the sky will provide the proper neck alignment.

Use isometric energy to strengthen weak muscles in the neck and upper back. Begin by lying prone on a hard floor. With your spine completely supported, roll the shoulders back and down toward the hips, drawing the scapulae toward the heart center. Tuck the chin and extend the back of the neck. With the palms facing upward, press the back of the skull into the floor, lifting the heart upward, bracing with the backs of the forearms and hands against the floor. Hold for as long as the pose is comfortable. A good measure is five full, deep breaths. This exercise also strengthens the muscles of the neck to counteract the forward movements from gravity that naturally occur with age.

Use your cloth strap to align the shoulders and provide stabilization. If nothing else is available, the belt of a bathrobe might substitute. Take the strap behind the ribs and under the armpits. Wrap the ends of the strap around the shoulders, so they fall onto the back. Crisscross the straps and take them in opposite hands, such that when you tug on one end with the right hand, your left trapezoid muscle feels pressure and vice versa. Pull both ends down while you breathe in; exhale, releasing the tension on the strap. Practice this exercise daily for 10 to 15 minutes. Record any new sensations or relief as you notice changes in the neck and shoulder pain. This exercise is passive. Use it to assist in opening the shoulders. You can even tie off the strap under the breast and wear it for up to an hour while doing other activities.

Stand facing a wall with arms outstretched in a T shape. Choose a side and place the inside of the shoulder pressing into the wall, with the arm outstretched in a comfortable position. Turn your torso in the opposite direction from the arm. Do not continue if the pain increases. Come to a place where it is easy to breathe naturally and hold. Experiment with pressing lightly against the wall to increase stability within the shoulder joints. Switch sides and repeat to compare the different sensations on the left and right.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some pain can be treated with heat or cold. Fill a small pillow case with rice and stitch it closed. The rice can be microwaved to provide heat treatments or kept in the freezer to provide a cold compress. Inflammation in the joints can be helped with a cold compress and tightness in the muscles can be relieved with heat.
  • Many ointments are available for massaging the neck and shoulders. Arnica essential oil treatments work to alleviate inflammation after working the neck and shoulders in these postures.
  • These activities should not increase pain. Work with the postures in a way that feels natural and in which you can breathe fully into the opening or stabilizing pose. Never push deeper if there is a stronger sensation of pain, and see a physician before continuing to practice these activities.

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  • Scientific Keys Volume 1: The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga, Long; Raymond Long; 2006
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