It starts…in school. Everything we do is “forward.” Reading, writing, typing, driving, etc. tend to force our posture into a forward, hunched over position. Doing this over a long period of time weakens the muscular structure that holds our shoulders in their natural upright position.
Add to that…stress. When we are nervous or scared, our shoulders naturally crunch up toward our ears. It’s a protective posture. Think about it: if someone comes at you, swinging a bat, you would either run away or crunch your shoulders upward to protect your head, right?
Add to that…computer work, driving, and childcare. Same idea of slumping forward and weakening the upright musculature. When you work on a computer or at a desk, your chin inevitably starts to jut out a little bit. Lifting things can cause damage if not done correctly. Driving also puts your body into a somewhat unnatural, static position for an extended period of time.
In Chinese medicine, there are 12 main meridians (blood-flow pathways), and all of which in some way transit through your shoulders and neck! That’s why – while we generally get good results treating shoulder and neck pain tension – it is a “pain in the neck” to treat because there is so much involvement from a lot of areas in your body.
Some things that I have picked up over the years in treating my own and probably over 200 other people for shoulder tension:
1. Be careful of how you sit in your car and at your desk. Shoulders should be down and back; top of your head pulled upward (as if there was an invisible string pulling your head up) and chin tucked in. Now don’t forget to breathe! Sending fresh oxygen to your muscles is essential for healing.
2. If your job requires you to sit all day, get up and move around or just change positions at least once every hour. Learn ergonomic stretching techniques.
3. Also, if your job requires you to sit all day, talk to your HR department or boss about having a more ergonomic-friendly set-up. Many corporations now offer standing desks, contoured keypads or chairs, and even ergonomic classes or coaches to help.
4. I like to use yoga to loosen up my shoulders. Some of the yoga movements – like push-ups – cause more shoulder tension at first because they are building muscles, but most of the positions and movements emphasize correct shoulder posture. The movements with coordinated breathing make me feel better afterward (like I just had a massage) due to the increase oxygenation of the muscle tissues.
5. Speaking of massage, really deep tissue massage, or myo-facial release, can help to break up “knots” or calcium deposits in the muscle tissue. Chinese cupping treatment has a similar effect as well. Acupuncture gets to the deepest level of them all – the level of the nerves – and has a great effect on shoulder tension.
6. Muscle stabilization exercises that a physical therapist would recommend can help to strengthen weaker muscle groups that – when stronger – will help to hold the tense muscle groups in place better.
7. Vitamin and mineral balance, in particular magnesium, should be addressed. Signs of magnesium deficiency include tightness of the muscles and problems falling asleep at night. Foods rich in magnesium include: dark green vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, figs, and … dark chocolate (yeah!).
What all have you tried for your tight shoulders? What has worked and what hasn’t??? Leave your comments below: