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Ease neck and shoulder pain: improving your posture and exercising can help prevent or relieve pain.

If your shoulders ache and your neck hurts after sitting at a computer, driving a car, or engaging in any activity that involves bending your head and neck forward, the culprit is likely to be your trapezius muscles, commonly referred to as "traps." Your traps are broad, triangular muscles that begin underneath your skull at the back of your neck and extend downward and out over your upper shoulders and down to the middle of your back. Rounded posture that results from leaning forward stresses the traps, causing them to become fatigued and produce discomfort and/or pain.

Preventive Measures

Follow these suggestions to keep your shoulders and neck in proper alignment and prevent pain.

* Sit up straight. If you sit in a slouched position, it is a sign of postural decline. It means you're losing the ability to stabilize your shoulders, which roll forward and pull the traps with them. When you are sitting, check your posture often; if you are slouching, pull your shoulders back and sit up straight. Imagine that your head is being pulled up by an imaginary rope that stretches from the top of your head to the ceiling.

The same holds true while traveling. When you fly or travel on a train or a bus, keep your seat in the fully upright position and sit as tall as possible. If you're driving a car, don't recline the seat back; that will force your head forward and put additional stress on your upper traps.

* Take short breaks. If you feel yourself starting to slouch, get up and take a break. Gently move your head from side to side, shake your shoulders, and walk around. If your traps become fatigued and you still keep doing the same activity, they can go into spasm, and you'll be in pain. Taking a break every 30 minutes or so is a good preventive strategy. If you can't easily get up and walk around, stop what you're doing, sit up straight, and gently lift your chest up, allowing your shoulders to roll back and down. Take several deep breaths, and try to maintain this posture when you start your task again.

* Exercise regularly. If you don't exercise, your posture is likely to worsen. You'll have more difficulty carrying things because you'll be lacking the necessary upper back strength. At the same time, you will have trouble reaching overhead because your traps are tight and short. In addition to getting moderate-intensity exercise several days a week, do the exercises shown below. Also try walking across a room with a book on your head at least once a day. In addition to improving balance and posture, this exercise lengthens your spine as you push up against gravity. You can also sit with a book on your head; then try to remember that feeling every time you're sitting or standing, and adjust accordingly.

REDUCE NECK AND SHOULDER PAIN

* Sit or stand with good posture.

* Reach your right hand down toward the floor, straightening your arm.

* Turn your head to the left while dropping your chin toward your collarbone.

* Using your left hand, slowly and gently pull your nose toward your left armpit. Hold for five slow breaths.

* Slowly release and return to the starting position.

* Repeat on the right side, with your left arm toward the floor, stretching the right side of the neck; then, do one more set.

* Do these stretches two to three times a day.

SHOULDER RETRACTIONS

This exercise improves posture by strengthening back muscles.

* Hold a resistance band in both hands, keeping your elbows against your sides and your hands in front of you. (If you don't have a resistance band, a piece of thick elastic band or stretchy plastic tubing will work.)

* Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you rotate your arms away from your body, keeping your elbows against your sides. Hold for one to two seconds, and then return to the starting position.

* Do 15 repetitions three to five times daily.

Illustrations by Alayna Paquette

Caption: Spending many hours in front of a computer can cause neck and shoulder tension and pain.
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Title Annotation:EXERCISE & FITNESS
Publication:Women's Health Advisor
Date:May 1, 2017
Words:686
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