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Relief for Neck, Shoulder and Upper Back Tension

The complaint that I see the most in my massage practice is upper body tension, mainly the neck, upper back, and shoulders. Given the number of hours that we spend in front of our computers and phones, this isn’t surprising. This was true before the pandemic and will be afterwards; however, the pandemic has been exacerbating upper body pain because many people are working in home offices without an ergonomic chair and the appropriate desk height.

When you come in with neck, shoulder and upper back pain, I am going to assess your individual situation and do the following:

- Stretch your neck and support the natural curve that is compressed by the weight of your head. If you’ve had a whiplash injury, you may have lost some of the natural curve that supports your head in the most efficient way possible.

- Release your pectoralis muscles on the front of your chest. When these are tight, your shoulders curve forward, creating tension across the upper back and forcing too sharp a curve in your lower neck leading to neck pain.

- Release the muscles along the side of your neck (scalenes), which become tight when you carry your head too far forward over your shoulders. If you are slumping in your chair while working, you are likely craning your neck to see the monitor and throwing off the alignment of your head over your shoulders.

- Hold pressure on the “shoulder well” acupuncture point on the top of your shoulders. This feels good and releases tension in your shoulder muscles. These are muscles that we often unconsciously contract when we are stressed, under pressure, or angry.

- Locate and release trigger points in the muscles that facilitate breathing. These are along the side of your rib cage and are often overlooked. Trigger points are small areas of de-facilitated muscle fibers that reduce the function of the muscle and refer pain to other areas.

- Release the trapezius muscle, which is the big muscle that covers much of your upper back and neck. Releasing this muscle always feels very satisfying, and releases tension in both the upper back and neck.

- If needed, I will release the rotator cuff muscles that are located between your shoulder blades and upper arms. These are sometimes involved in upper back and neck pain.

Here are some activities and exercises that you can do at home to help with neck and upper back pain:

  • Remember to get up and move at least once per hour. Take a couple of minutes to walk around, grab a glass of water, or do a few quick yoga poses. You can set a timer or use an app to remind you. Movement keeps your muscles hydrated, nourished, and working well.

  • If you feel tension in a particular spot, try to contract that muscle. Hold the contraction for 5 seconds and release. Repeat this three times. This tells the muscle that it doesn’t have to hold a sustained contraction. Often, we are unconscious of where we are holding tension and unaware that we have a choice to just let it go. This “contract-relax” exercise reminds your brain to give your muscles some slack.

  • Stretch the muscle where you feel pain. You’ll want to keep the sensation from the stretch in the realm of good pain. If it really hurts, back off.

  • Yoga is a wonderful way to both stretch and strengthen your muscles. With regular practice, yoga can increase your range of motion and improve your flexibility. An in-person class is best because you have a teacher there who can correct your form. However, there are also many classes online that you can do in the comfort of your own home. You’ll want to purchase a yoga mat to avoid slipping for many of the standing postures. Here are three videos that specifically address upper back and neck pain:

1. This is a ten-minute video produced by Yoga with Adriene, called 10-Minute Yoga for Neck, Shoulders, & Upper Back. If you are a dog lover, her mellow dog is in the video. She does an extended version of my two favorite mid-back and neck stretches and gives very good direction on breathing. 2. This 15-minute Australian video is called Yoga for Neck, Shoulders and Upper Back by Paula Lay. It’s a flowing sequence that includes a twist and refined stretches for the neck. Your side and low back will also benefit from this video. 3. If you are an Amazon Prime member, try Episode 1 Upper Back and Neck of Lindsay Samper’s Yoga Classes for Back Pain, Neck Pain, and Stress Relief. This is a 10-minute video with very gentle stretches for your upper back and neck. Lindsay’s guidance is calm and clear. If you are experiencing upper body tension and are struggling to find relief, allow us take care of you. Call us at (650) 476-6299 to book your massage.

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