Mar 2015 07

Self help for sore neck and shoulders

By: Dave Wheeler

Most of us suffer from sore shoulders and neck at some point. Here are some tips on how you can help yourself.


sore neck and shoulders


Why do we get sore shoulders and neck?

Think about how we live our lives:

  • sitting at a desk with our arms outstretched at the keyboard, looking down at the screen
  • on our phone, laptop or tablet looking down
  • reading, eating, knitting, playing the piano, writing - all with out head down


With our necks stretched out and downward for much of the day, the muscles which run from the back of the shoulder to the neck (called the levator scapulae) become elongated but at the same time have to support the whole weight of your head. This means that the muscles become hypertonic, or over-used.

This over-use is what leads to soreness at the top of the shoulders at the back.


What you need to treat your sore shoulders - a plastic golf ball and a sock

The one thing that you can buy that will help your sore shoulder muscles the most is a plastic golf ball. 

They're not particularly easy to find in toy shops, but Amazon stock them if you can't get one locally.

It's really important that it's plastic - a real golf ball is much too hard and will actually damage the muscle, so only use a plastic one.

The other thing you'll need is a sock.

Put the golf ball in the sock, then, keeping hold of the open end of the sock, throw the sock over your shoulder.

Stand about a foot from a wall and lean back against it, positioning the golf ball in the sock against the sorest part of your shoulders.

Once you've located that sore point, don't roll around - keep the golf ball in one place, using the pressure from leaning back against it to keep pressing against the tender point.

Stay like this for one minute. 

After 20 seconds or so you should start to feel the tender point relaxing. This is a form of trigger point therapy.

It's worth saying that although this is effective, you probably don't want to do it more than once a fortnight.


Stretching out the ache

I've written before about the stretch reflex - this is a natural reflex against stretching. Your body tries to resist the stretch by tensing.

For the 1st 9-10 seconds, your body fights the stretch.

So if you bend your head forward and sideways to stretch out the ache on one side for a couple of seconds then your body is actually fighting the stretch - it'll make the ache worse in the long run!

To help relieve the ache, when you stretch your head down, make sure that you hold the stretch for 20 seconds or more - that way you really will be helping to stretch out the ache.


Improving the stretch

There are a few ways that the stretch that you do when you bend your neck down and to the side for 20 seconds or more can be improved if you want:

  1. Place a hand on your head (the one on the side to which your head is tilted - so if your right shoulder aches, your head will be tilted down to the left, therefore use your left hand). Don't exert any pressure, or pull - let gravity do the work.
  2. Alternatively, use the hand that you would have put on your head to grasp the wrist of the other hand behind your back, and gently pull that arm downward. So if you right shoulder ache, use your left hand behind your back to grasp the wrist of the right arm and gently pull.


If you've got aches that are down to years of misuse, then trying to sort things out yourself might not be enough. In that case, give me a call.