Neck and shoulder stiffness can be brought on by a number of factors, but it is rarely one catastrophic event that’s causing the pain and discomfort. More often than not, it is the seemingly insignificant everyday habits that combine to strain the neck and shoulder muscles and create pain over time.
Below, we present five of the most common mistakes that may be causing your neck and shoulder stiffness – and how to easily correct them:Click To Tweet
- You Sleep in Awkward Positions
Many patients visiting our clinic with neck stiffness have a common complaint: “Most nights I fall asleep just fine, but I wake up in the morning and I can’t turn my head.” Deep in sleep, your head can move into an awkward position that puts extra strain on your neck muscles. Sleeping with your neck twisted or bent too far for a whole night is often the cause of neck and back pain, and in the long run, digestive disorders and even premature aging.
To minimize the risk of neck or shoulder pain, you need to start sleeping in positions that are easier on your neck. Sleeping on your back is generally considered the best position in bed, as it allows the head, neck, and spine to align naturally and remain in a neutral position. Sleeping on your side is another beneficial position, especially for patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea or those prone to neck and back pain. Consider switching to an ergonomic or a feather pillow that conforms to the shape of your neck and promotes proper spinal alignment.
- You Keep Your Laptop/Tablet in Your Lap
If you’re spending hours on end looking into a screen, whether it’s a laptop or a tablet such as an iPad, you’re also facing the risk of neck and shoulder stiffness. Holding the device too low in your lap can force the cervical vertebrae and neck muscles to bend forward too much, leading to strain and possibly injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments, and spinal discs.
To reduce neck strain and potential pain, it’s important to prop up your device at a comfortable viewing angle that doesn’t force you to keep your neck bent for a prolonged time. Whether you’re using a tablet or a desktop computer, take regular breaks and shift your position to keep the shoulders relaxed and the elbows close to your body. Consider getting a desk chair with proper lumbar support or place a pillow against your back for better support.
- You Sit or Walk with Bad Posture
Often, neck pain that is not caused by traumatic injury has a postural component as part of the underlying issue, and the most prevalent is the forward head and shoulder posture (FHP). Years of slumping at your computer, driving without proper support, or sleeping in awkward positions can trigger a chain reaction of muscle and tissue imbalances that forces your head to go forward.
According to research, for every inch that your head protrudes from its natural position you add 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of force upon your neck. This forces the muscles in your neck and upper back to work much harder to keep your head straight, adding pressure at the base of your skull and causing not only neck and shoulder pain, but also migraine headaches, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and respiratory problems.
Awareness of the correct neck and shoulder posture is the first and most important step towards correction. There are numerous corrective exercises and stretches that can be performed to gain control over the neck muscles that have become weaker over time, but we recommend getting a customized exercise plan that addresses all the specifics of your condition.
- You’re Lugging Around a Heavy or Improper Backpack/Bag
Whether it’s a handbag, a tote bag, or a backpack, lugging around an overloaded or unevenly weighted bag can cause pain to your head, neck, and shoulders. The American Chiropractic Association recommends that a bag should weigh no more than 10 percent of your body weight, and the weight should be distributed evenly. Taking a load that’s too heavy or favoring one shoulder over the other will force your body to overcompensate for the extra strain, leading to unnecessary pressure on the spine and nervous system.
To fix the damage and prevent future pain, consider reducing the weight of your bag and switching to bags with wider straps that will distribute the weight over a wider area. (This is especially important for school children, who should always wear a light backpack with both straps on.) Switch shoulders periodically to allow your muscles to develop equally and get enough exercise to ensure that your shoulders are properly toned.
- You’re Constantly Anxious or Stressed Out
Most of us know that emotional stress can give us the occasional headache. What’s less known is that stress also has a physical impact on the muscles and tendons in the neck. When you worry or stress out – whether it’s due to a real or imagined threat -the muscles on one or both sides of your neck will begin to tighten as part of the natural fight-or-flight response. Stress can also influence the way you perceive pain: if you are tense or under pressure, pain can actually feel worse. At the same time, it can trigger or exacerbate existing conditions such as asthma and sciatica or prior muscle injuries.
Since conventional medicine often does more harm than good when it comes to relieving stress and anxiety (the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs for stress range from greater anxiety and depression to sleep problems and loss of sex drive), more Americans suffering from stress are now turning to alternative & complementary care as a safer, healthier approach. A comprehensive treatment plan for managing stress including chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, acupuncture, and lifestyle & nutrition counseling can help anyone achieve a greater sense of calm and reduce acute or chronic pain.
If your pain and discomfort started after an injury or doesn’t ease up after a few weeks, you should immediately seek out the help of a licensed therapist specializing in musculoskeletal disorders. In addition to treating your neck pain with gentle, non-invasive techniques suitable for your specific condition, your therapist will also educate you on stress management, nutrition, and lifestyle goals to prevent future pain and discomfort.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.