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Many of us carry our stress and daily tension in our upper back and the muscle connecting our shoulders and neck (called the trapezius). The following stretches and range-of-motion exercises should be performed daily and any time you begin to feel tightness in your neck and upper back.
1. Begin in a seated position.
2. Leading with your chin, bend your neck forward so that your chin moves toward your chest. You will feel a stretch down the back of your neck and across your upper shoulders.
3. Next, turn your chin toward your left shoulder and try to touch your shoulder with your chin.
If you cannot reach your shoulder, don't worry. Don't raise your shoulder to meet your chin.
4. Extend your neck back so that your chin is facing the ceiling. You may feel pressure in the back of your neck and shoulder blades.
5. Finally, turn your chin toward your right shoulder. Again, do not raise your shoulder to meet your chin.
This range-of-motion exercise should be performed in a slow, continuous arc, so that you are moving your chin from front to side to back to side. Do four revolutions. You may hear some crunching in your neck as your head moves on your spine. Painless crunching is fine. However, if you have pain shooting down your arms or numbness in your hands when doing this exercise, stop and make an appointment with your orthopedic surgeon to make sure your nerves are not being pinched.
Exercise recommendations are only applicable if you’ve identified the factors contributing to the pain (e.g. muscle imbalances, joint dysfunctions). If you’re currently experiencing neck and/or shoulder pain, it is critical to short- and long-term success that you’re evaluated by a trained medical professional. Once you’re able to begin exercise, you should seek a Corrective Exercise Specialist (NASM). This professional can customize a training program to address your specific needs.
Neck & shoulder pain are often related to posture and the dynamic function of the shoulder blade (scapula). Therefore, a focus on restoring normal seated and standing posture is effective. A conservative approach to managing neck and shoulder pain includes:
Foam Roll (Latissimus dorsi, Tensor fascia latae)
Stretching (Latissimus dorsi, Pectoralis major, Scalene)
Exercise (Prone Cobra, Prone DB Row)
This is a loaded question and, honestly, this needs to be answered with a thorough consultation from a corrective exercise specialist.
A corrective exercise specialist will look at what is causing the pain and what muscular imbalances could be causing the issue. After evaluating the overactive and under-active muscles, the fitness professional will be able to implement a flexibility strategy for the tight muscles and an activation/strengthening strategy for the weak muscles.
Generally, pain in the neck and shoulders will come from tightness in the upper traps, lats, pecs and teres major. Weak muscles will generally be the lower and mid traps, rear deltoids and rotator cuff, as well as the rhomboids.
Now, this is without evaluating and a general response, but I would suggest a foam rolling and stretching strategy for your upper traps, pecs, lats and teres major with an activation of the mid and lower traps, rear deltoids, rotator cuff and rhomboids.
Many times posture and positioning of the head and strength of the core will also lead to pain in those areas. Even if you do not get evaluated by a corrective exercise specialist, tucking your chin (which forces your head backwards), drawing in your abs, activating your glutes and maintaining this position during exercise and activity, at the bare minimum, will put you in a better postural position.
The following are the top shoulder and neck correction exercises to relieve pain:
- All-fours rocking stretch passively restores normal mechanics of the shoulder, neck, and arms.
- Neck extensor stretch restores length to the muscles attaching to the base of the skull that can cause headaches when tight.
- Trapezius strengthening strengthens key muscles controlling scapular elevation and rotation responsible for normal movement.
- Arm slides teaches proper overhead shoulder mechanics and strengthens key scapular muscles.
- Hand on head relieves stress from the levator scapula and activates the upper trapezius muscles.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.