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Tips for relieving tense and painful shoulders

Thursday, May 13, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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Before you read this post stop for a moment. Notice your shoulders. What are they doing right now? Are they up near your ears? Hunched forward over your keyboard? Are they tense? Aching?

If your shoulders are tense and aching, you are not alone. At the beginning of my yoga classes I always take requests for any part of the body that people want to pay special attention to in the class.

Every time I ask this – every time – at least one person says that their neck and shoulders are tense or sore. So, I’m going to take an informed guess and say that your shoulders are probably tense right now.

Let’s do something about that before we go any further.

First breath in deeply drawing your shoulders up towards your ears. Then, as you exhale slowly and deeply, release and relax your shoulders. Gently draw the heads of your shoulder back and down and draw your shoulder blades gently towards each other and down your back.

Now lengthen through your spine, from your tailbone to the crown of your head, and then gently tilt your right ear towards your right shoulder. Gently extend your left arm towards the floor, lengthening through the side of your neck. Exhale to release any tension in the neck and then on an inhale, bring the head back to centre. Repeat on the other side.

Okay. Now how do your shoulders feel?

Maybe a little bit more relaxed? But let’s be honest it’s going to take more than two minutes of stretches to undo the tension you’ve built up over weeks, months, maybe even years.

So here are my top tips for reducing neck and shoulder pain:

  • Check your work-station. If possible, get it checked by an expert in ergonomics, but at the very least check the height of your keyboard (your shoulders should be relaxed while you type, many of us have our keyboards too high so we are ‘hunching’ all day long) and monitor (can you see it while keeping both the front and back or your neck long?) and the quality of your seat. A good seat tilts the top of your pelvis slightly forward, allowing your spine to rest in its natural curve, and leaves your knees lower than your hips.
  • Take micro-breaks and check your posture while you work. Every time you notice the tension in your shoulders do the first little exercise I just walked you through. Release and relax your shoulders. In time you’ll become more aware of your shoulders and you’ll notice right away when you are tensing them. The deep breath and relaxation will become your natural response.
  • Try my “Yoga for Bloggers”. I’ve put together a short video that includes a selection of wrist and shoulder stretches. You can get a free copy if you sign up to my mailing list this month. You can do the whole video at once, it will take less than 10 minutes, or you can do one of the stretches each time you take a break from work to eat, drink or go to the toilet.
  • Get regular massages or acupuncture treatments. Both can help, although neither will make the problem go away unless you are addressing the root causes.
  • Ask your holistic health advisor whether a magnesium supplement might be right for you. Magnesium helps release muscle tension and because of soil deficiencies increasing numbers of us are not getting the magnesium we need, even if we eat a balanced healthy diet.
  • Pay attention to the tension that lies beneath the tension. What is worrying you at the moment? Is there anything you can do about it? If so, choose something to do about it today, even one small step. If not, can you find a way to accept that there is nothing you can do and then let it be what ever it will be? A lot of tension in the neck and shoulders accumulates from mental and emotional tension and finding ways to release the underlying anxiety can help with the physical manifestations.
  • Send your inner critic packing for a while. One of the participants in my last Yoga in Action group shared a wonderful observation about tense shoulders. She said that her inner critic sat on the ridge of her tensed shoulders, constantly harping on at her about her flaws and failings, but that when she relaxed her shoulders there was no longer anything for him to sit on and he slid right off. I love this image because I think there is a direct link between the persistent voice of our inner critics and the particular kind of tension that we accumulate in our shoulders. So every time you breath deeply and relax your shoulders, imagine your inner critic sliding right off.
  • Include a little bit of yoga in your daily life. My 30 days of yoga is beginning again on 12 June and you can register now. I’ll design you a yoga practice specifically to help with your shoulder pain. You’ll also get lots of encouragement and support over 30 days, enough time to settle into a regular home practice of yoga. Most importantly, you’ll get into the habit of noticing what’s happening in your body and you’ll develop a regular practice of releasing the tensions that build up in your body as they arise.
  • What other tips do you have for relieving tension in the neck and shoulders?

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