Hello Zesty Things readers. I am here to do a guest post on a big problem I come across with many of my clients: neck pain and shoulder pain. When I first meet with new clients, I ask them if they have any areas with pain or discomfort as part of my initial assessment so that I can develop a workout plan that will not only improve their fitness levels but also their quality of life. Along with smoking, one of the main issues my clients repeatedly mention as a roadblock to fitness is neck pain and shoulder pain. A client complaining of a sore neck is about as common as a client who wishes to lose weight – pretty much all of them.
Neck Pain & Shoulder Pain: Me Too
I myself have suffered from shoulder and neck pain for years. For me, it started when I was in a car accident. It took over a year to recover, and I still feel pain from time to time, but that event is what put me on the path to fitness and led me to be a personal trainer. But that’s a story for another time. I will say that it was necessary that I address the underlying cause of my pain and regain the strength and mobility I had lost during my recovery to be able to function normally again.
For my clients, the most common cause of shoulder and neck pain is modern office life: many of us work in offices where we sit hunched over desks glaring at computer screens. Over time, this causes stress on the spine as well as a loss of back strength. This leads to pains in the neck and shoulder area, a stiff neck and difficulty turning, soreness and even numbness. Eventually, that feeling can radiate to other parts of the body such as the arms and fingers. Stiffness in the neck and shoulders can also lead to blurred vision as nerves are pinched, headaches, and even will affect balance and coordination. In extreme situations, intraocular pressure can develop, or loss of bladder control arises if the neck pain and shoulder pain is not addressed and allowed to develop into a more serious issue. A chronically sore neck will eventually affect your work performance.
The first step is to figure out what is causing your neck and shoulder pain. Stand in front of a full-length mirror and look at yourself. Are your head and face pitched forward? Do your shoulders droop and slope? These are signs that your neck, and upper back, muscles are weak. This allows the upper part of your body to drift forward. Turn to the side. Are your back and shoulders nice and straight or is your back rounded? In other words, bad posture is to blame.
See Your Doctor
If you have been feeling neck and shoulder pain for more than four weeks, or if you have begun to feel numbness and tingling, you should see a doctor. You also want to rule out more serious causes such as arthritis, herniated discs and degenerative disc disease, meningitis, swollen lymph nodes, and various syndromes that can only be identified by a health professional. These causes will require x-rays and MRI scans to identify.
Over the Counter Treatments
Dealing with neck and shoulder pain usually starts at the medicine cabinet. The first thing most people do is reach for pain relievers and accept the pain as part of their daily routine. Anti-inflammatory treatments such as ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) work well for many, while naproxen type pain relievers (Aleve) I found work best for me. You can read more about Naproxen here. Some doctors will prescribe steroids. It’s important to keep in mind though that these medications for shoulder and neck pain do come with side effects, so treating ongoing pain this way is a band-aid for a deeper problem. It’s ok to take a pill or two on a bad day, but find out what is causing your pain and deal with it in a less harmful way.
A better solution to dealing with neck and shoulder pain is to fix your posture. Concentrate on pulling your shoulders back. That will help to properly align your neck. Throughout the day take a minute to stop and think about how you are sitting and what position your head and neck are in. Straighten out your back. If you do work in an office, make sure the lumbar support of your chair is in a good position. Many employers do ergonomic assessments to make sure your desk and chair are at the right height. Adjust your monitors to be at eye level. You should not be looking up or down at the screen.
Sometimes, seeing a chiropractor can help speed up the process of posture correction. I personally went to a chiropractor for months after my accident and felt that it really helped. The one thing I would say though is that chiropractic treatments are short lived. Within an hour or so of leaving the office, I could feel my body pulling back into its old position and my neck pain returning. Muscles have memory, and they want to return to the old, incorrect position they were in. That’s why it’s so important to be vigilant in your posture and to develop neck and shoulder strength to help maintain a new, correct, alignment. This is a great reason to start a fitness program.
Look online and search for strength building exercises for the head and neck. There are plenty of them. Overhead presses and side lateral raises will help develop shoulder strength. You could even do these exercises with a desk object to start, or a small 5-pound weight hidden in a desk drawer. Make use of your 15-minute breaks at work by doing a few exercises at your desk. Neck strength is harder to develop, but a simple exercise is to put a towel behind your head and pull down firmly while trying to push your head and neck backward. This firm resistance will help develop the neck muscles. Those stronger muscles will help to reduce your neck pain.
Yoga and Stretching
There are plenty of yoga exercises that will help prevent neck pain and shoulder pain, so many in fact that it would be hard to list them all here. Yoga is a great way to develop flexibility and whole-body strength. Look for a class in your neighborhood. Just about any city has a class, and they are usually in the mornings and evenings to fit into just about anyone’s schedule. Yoga is great too because people of all ability levels can participate. There are positions for beginners, and more advanced poses as you become more flexible.
Light stretching throughout the day helps to keep the muscles loose and reminds you to check your posture. During your 15-minute work breaks, after doing some of those strength building exercises I mentioned, do some light stretching and get out of your chair and move around. I recommend that my clients keep a rubber resistance band in their desk, or in their suitcase when they travel so they always have a “gym” with them. These can usually be bought for around $10 for a basic one at Walmart, so there’s no excuse not to.
Sore Neck & Shoulders: Conclusion
Neck and shoulder pain is something that affects many of us, but it’s not an untreatable condition. In fact, unless you have a more serious health issue it is correctable. Taking the time to develop strength in the region of pain will help to correct your posture and in time, the neck pain and shoulder pain will gradually subside. If you suffer from a sore neck or shoulder pain, comment below on what efforts you have made to deal with it and if any of my ideas helped you.
Brooke Bailey is a personal trainer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Follow her on Facebook.