10 habits that may be causing your neck and shoulder pain
The neck and shoulder areas are one of the most used parts of your body. The overuse and improper support of the muscles in this region can have an impact in more ways than one. Read on to see how to recognize what you may be doing wrong and how to improve get back on track.
The neck and shoulder area of your body share many muscles that also support your joints and vertebra. One of the largest and frequently stressed areas is your trapezius.
This muscle tends to “trap” your poor posture, repetitive movements and general stress. It is a very large muscle area that attaches to your vertebral column near your neck and shoulders. The trapezius supports the shoulder as well as the neck whereas the shoulder muscles only support the shoulder.
Most people are unaware that there are three different divisions of the trapezius muscle. The pain for the three different areas is very distinct. The three areas are the upper, middle and lower.
The upper trapezius is responsible for allowing you to tilt your head back and look upward as well as flex your neck side to side.
The middle trapezius is responsible for moving your scapula (back shoulder bone) inward and upward closer to your body and allows for arm movement.
The lower trapezius also works in rotation of the scapula however performs several different movements.
Symptoms of muscle stress
The upper trapezius may cause pain into the head along the back and side of your neck and into the head. It may also extend to side of your jaw, side of your head, temple and behind the eye.
The middle trapezius muscles have numerous trigger points that if innervated may cause a burning type pain all long the spine from your 7th cervical vertebrae in your neck down to your 3rd thoracic vertebrae. (On a side note there is an area within the middle traps that can cause chills in your arms and even thighs if stimulated. I have had this occur during massage sessions. I never knew why until recently.)
The lower trapezius area has trigger points that can refer pain from the top of your shoulder all the way up to the back of your skull.
It is easy to see how an inflamed trapezius muscle may cause various complaints including:
- Neck pain
- TMJ pain
- Stiff neck
- Burning pain in shoulders/arms
- Numbness in arms
Just like the children’s nursery rhyme Dry Bones, muscles are also interconnected and depend upon each other for proper movement. The shoulder muscles which are pivotal for the movement of your arms are much smaller than the trapezius. Because they are smaller they receive less nutrition and often weaken and are injured before the trapezius. However once your shoulder muscles are weakened and do not support your shoulder joint properly your trapezius is depended upon to help out. This overworks it resulting in pain in the neck.
This will often end with a trip to the doctor and sometimes an improper diagnosis of cervical spondylosis. From there CT scans, an MRI, painkillers and an orthopaedic surgical consult may be ordered. It is easy to see how this snowballs.
Prevention or early treatment is crucial. If left unrecognized, muscle stress in the neck, shoulders and trapezius may indeed lead to prolapsed discs and eventually Cervical spondylosis.
Trigger points may be activated due to trauma such as whiplash or fall. Make sure that you seek medical attention such as chiropractic care, physical therapy with ultrasound and exercises or massage.
It is not just injury that causes pain. It can be your activities of daily living that are slowly causing wear and tear on your shoulders and trapezius muscles.
Ten habits that could be causing your pain
1. Using a cane that is an improper height can cause strain on your traps. Make sure you are properly fitted for your height. Picking up a used cane at a flea market or a unique one at a festival may do more harm than good if it is too short.
2. Using your shoulder to support your phone while talking and using your hands is a big cause of injury to your traps. Use the speaker phone or invest in a headset to reduce the stress.
3. Poor ergonomics at your work station such as a high keyboard or chair arm rests that are too high. Make sure that your arms are level and not reaching up towards the keyboard. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Musculoskeletal Disorders, in 2011 the industries that reported the highest levels of injuries included health care, transportation and warehousing, retail and wholesale trade and construction. These numbers are important as it accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases in 2011.
4. Long hours at a computer in general along with prolonged use of clicking on a mouse can tighten also your traps. Remember to take a break every 30 minutes to stretch. A good trick is to set a timer a few feet away from you that will go off every 30 minutes making you get up and reset it. You can stretch your arms and neck on the way there.
Here is a video from Mayo Clinic that is less than 2 minutes that shows you stretches you can do to help.
5. Sewing, knitting or crocheting without your arms being supported. Just like keyboarding, any activity where your arms and shoulders are un supported can cause problems.
6. Wearing a bra that is too tight. Make sure that your bras are properly fitted and that the straps are not too tight. Going to a store that professionally fits you is a good investment. Don’t forget to be refitted if you gain or lose weight.
7.. Carrying a heavy purse, backpack or coat over your arm. If you carry a purse on your shoulder try placing the strap across your body instead of over your shoulder.
8. Sleeping on the back with the head rotated to one side can cause an issue. Also don’t sleep on your stomach. This causes you to overextend your neck to the side. Sleep on your side with a proper supporting pillow.
9. Emotional distress. Pay close attention to where you carry your shoulders during times of stress. I for one will realize that my shoulders will come up higher and higher towards my ears as the day goes on at work. I am definitely one that carries my stress in my shoulders. This in turn will increase the chances of me having a tension headache.
10. Long hours driving a vehicle with the hands high on the steering wheel. When driving, make sure your hands are resting towards the bottom of the wheel with your palms downwards instead of at the top. This is the opposite to how most of us were taught.