If you struggle with tight shoulders or regular neck pain, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Contemporary living has resulted in the rise in such physical discomforts, and chronic neck and shoulder pain have sadly become the norm rather than the exception. So, what are the common causes and what can you do to alleviate them?
There are a host of causes and just as many ways you can relieve neck tension and tight shoulders. Scroll on down and discover our eight favorite neck and shoulder stretches. Not only will they aid in easing the pain, but are especially good post-workout stretches and fantastic additions to your fitness routine, which will go a long way to improve your all-around mobility.
Causes of shoulder and neck tension
Just as our bodies are unique and diverse, so too are the root triggers for individual neck and shoulder pain; but we got your back — or as the case may be neck and shoulders — with a list of the most common causes.
One of the most common reasons people experience muscle tension in their body is due to muscular imbalances. This is the juxtaposition of strong, overworked muscles vs. weak, underused ones. In general, such imbalances develop from everyday movement executed with poor form — think of bending down and picking up heavy objects.
When it comes to neck and shoulder tension, your chest and the upper back area will often be the issue. How exactly? Let’s take the widespread problem of hunching. If we use the strong vs. weak muscle scenario, the case will be that your chest is tight and working overtime, while your shoulder girdle (trapezius, deltoid and rhomboid muscles) are weak.
The majority of us tend to have a sedentary job where we’re seated at a desk for most of the day. Looking at screens in that forward hunched form over time leads to tightening of the chest muscles and loosening of the shoulder girdle. If you can, try and get up regularly during your work day and incorporate some of our stretches below. If that’s not possible, then practice mindful sitting, and adjust your sitting position every so often, so you’re seated upright, with your shoulders back, neck neutral and core muscles engaged — sitting on gymnastic balls are a great way to practice this.
A significant factor associated with neck pain and shoulder tension is past physical trauma. This can be as a result of a blunt force (impact, an accident, or physical attack). Physical trauma can also be movement related, due to incorrect form when exercising or a quick, improper action that has caused a muscle pull or strain. If you have had issues with any kind of physical trauma, make sure to consult a medical professional or physiotherapist before taking on any of the stretches listed below.
What would an article on neck and shoulder pain be without the mention of our not so friendly foe — stress. Repeated stress can manifest in tight muscles and overall tension, with psychological and physical strain taking its toll on your body over time. With most of us feeling the pressure of the daily grind — balancing work, family, social life, day-to-day obligations, as well as carving out self-care and downtime, it’s hard not to stress out. Some studies have shown that stress-induced neck and shoulder pain could be the result of constant, low activation of the trapezius muscles.
Why stretching helps
Before we dive into the benefits of stretching for neck pain and shoulder tension, it’s worth mentioning that stretching goes hand in hand with strengthening. Pairing a regular stretching routine with strength training will lend your body both stability and mobility, and help prevent potential injury.
When it comes to neck tension and tight shoulders, stretching:
Relieves muscle tight and tense muscles
Creates balance in the body
Boosts circulation by increasing blood flow to stretched areas
Assists in the dispersion of metabolic byproducts resulting from exercising
Our 8 favorite neck and shoulder stretches
Here are a collection of our eight favorite neck and shoulder stretches. Incorporating these into your post-workout routine or on their own as a break from your daily routine, will alleviate tension and leave you feeling great!
Hold the following stretches for around 15-30 secs, or until you start to experience discomfort. In general, the longer you hold a static stretch, the better.
Side tilt: Stretches the neck — loosens your traps
Self-assisted trap stretch: Stretches the neck — loosens your traps
Hands clasped behind body stretch: Stretches the neck and shoulders — loosens your deltoids
Shoulder stretch cross body: Stretches the shoulders — loosens your deltoids
“L” wall stretch: Stretches the shoulders — loosens your chest, specifically pectoralis major
Straight arm wall stretch: Stretches the shoulders — loosens deltoids, biceps and chest
Shoulder rolls: Dynamic stretch for the neck and shoulders — increases blood circulation
Thread the needle stretch: Stretches the shoulders — loosens upper and lower back, great spinal twist
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