15 easy ways to banish shoulder and neck pain
If you suffer from pain in your neck or shoulders, you'll know it's no laughing matter – these areas can radiate pain to your back, arms, hands and wrists, leaving you feeling sore and under the weather. It seems more of us than ever before are suffering from neck and shoulder pain – a survey of 1,000 adults in the UK by Dynamic Markets for Fellowes revealed that 79% of people claim working with tablets and other mobile devices has made them ill and left them in pain. (1).
With more people working from home or other locations – than ever before, ergonomic workstations and workplace health and safety advice have become a thing of the past for many of us. It's hard to bear this advice in mind when you're sitting hunched over your laptop on the sofa or at your kitchen table, working your way towards another deadline.
But this dependence on mobile devices could cause chronic problems; up to half of those affected by shoulder pain still experience symptoms after 18 months (2) and more of us than ever before could be suffering from 'text neck' due to an obsession with our smartphones (3). We use the devices for longer periods – we work on them, text, play games, browse the web and even watch television. Tablets and phones are often held at an angle or placed flat on the lap, which means your neck is being flexed at an angle which puts more strain on it, causing pain to radiate to your arms, wrists and shoulders.
Knowing how to break your bad habits is one thing, but there are other factors which could cause neck and shoulder pain – an injury, stress, poor posture, sleeping awkwardly etc. If you're already suffering, try one of our 15 ways to banish neck and shoulder pain.
Heat is undoubtedly one of the best ways to relieve neck and shoulder pain (4) and you can use it in many forms for instant and long-term relief. Try a hot bath, with a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil to ease your muscles. Or a hot, wet compress applied to the painful area. A hot water bottle or special heat pad or patch (available at most chemists) can also help to ease inflammation and ensure you feel more comfortable. There are infra-red massagers available which are ideal if the painful area is out of reach, for example, behind your shoulder blade – these work for some people but not for everyone!
Just as heat can help to reduce muscle inflammation and pain, so can cold. Medicated gels such as Deep Freeze help to numb pain, but a cold compress works just as well, such as a bag of frozen peas. Always ensure you wrap the cold item in a towel, to avoid damaging your skin, and never sit for more than 15 minutes with a cold compress on.
#3. Get some exercise
Gentle neck and shoulder exercises can help the injured area to heal and doctors usually recommend that you keep moving if you've injured your neck or shoulder. It may be painful to perform exercises but they will help you heal faster and provide some immediate relief. Try neck rolls, to stretch the muscles around your neck. Start with your head straight and looking forward. Now, gently tip your head to the left, roll your head slowly back until your eyes face the ceiling and then roll your head gently back around to the right. Finish by rolling your head down, chin to your chest, and then return to the starting position. This is particularly helpful to stretch muscles at the back of your neck. There are other exercises which can be beneficial too – YouTube is a great place to find videos demonstrating these.
#4. Try the tennis ball shoulder exercise
As someone who regularly suffers shoulder pain due to an injury, this is a technique I swear by, and it works for a lot of the team here at Expertrain! You'll need a standard sized tennis ball. Stand with your back to the wall and place the tennis ball just below shoulder height on the wall, backing into it so it is wedged between your back and the wall. Now, bend your knees and slide up and down the wall, so the ball is moving up and down your shoulder blade, effectively massaging out knots and sore spots. Stop when you reach the most painful part and focus here, but don't press into the ball too hard.
You can take the massage further up your neck by moving your body lower down the wall. If you struggle to do this, a good tip is to put the tennis ball in an old (clean!) pair of tights and hold it over your shoulder in the correct position as you move up and down. This may make the painful area feel sorer at first but should provide long-term relief.
We're huge fans of acupuncture for rebalancing the body and releasing blocked energy, but it can also be used to treat back, neck and shoulder pain. Most acupuncturists should treat this type of pain but there may be a specialist clinic in your area that focuses sorely on back, neck and shoulder problems. It may take more than one treatment for long-lasting results.
#6. Book a massage
An aromatherapy massage is great to ease tension and relieve painful knots in your neck and shoulders, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Most beauty salons offer neck and shoulder massages for less than the cost of a full body massage, great if you're on a budget.
#7. See the chiropractor
If you suffer from chronic pain, you may be able to get your GP to refer you for chiropractic treatment on the NHS, although it's still considered an alternative therapy. You can still pay for private treatment – usually at a cost of around £30-40 a session. Chiropractors treat the muscles and joints of the body, manipulating the joints and also massaging and stretching soft tissue. You'll also usually be given a program of exercises to carry out at home.
Running may be the last thing you feel like doing when your neck or shoulder is painful, but gentle exercise is actually a good thing. We're not talking a full-on sprinting session or marathon, but warming up your muscles with a gentle jog around the block can get endorphins flowing, reduce pain and improve your flexibility. Plus you can treat yourself to your favourite post-workout snack afterwards.
#9. Stay active
Doctors usually advise anyone with a neck or shoulder injury to keep active, but this doesn't mean you need to head for the gym or a dance class. Little things such as going for a walk, doing some gardening or even hoovering the house all count. Sitting on the sofa nursing your aching neck all day may seem like a good idea, but it can actually cause stiffness and make the problem worse. Make sure you fit at least 30 minutes of activity into your day to keep pain at bay.
#10. Eat well
Eating healthily can help to strengthen your joints, muscle and bones, which can in turn reduce your risk of injury occurring. Vitamin D is vital for strong bones and we absorb most vitamin D from sunlight, so take your workout outside next time the sun is shining; even on overcast days you'll absorb some vitamin D. Ensure you eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – colourful vegetables such as red peppers and courgettes are packed with antioxidants and can help to fight inflammation, keeping your tissues and muscles healthy.
#11. Take a long, hot bath
If all else fails, sink into a hot bath with a few drops of essential oil or a natural, chemical-free bubble bath and relax. The hot water helps loosen your muscles and relieve pain – baths are also pretty good for stress-relief, and if you have a bath before bedtime, you'll enjoy a great night's sleep.
#12. Pain relief cream
There are plenty of creams and gels available on the market designed to relieve pain – such as Deep Heat, Deep Freeze and ibuprofen gel. For a more natural alternative, try Tiger Balm, available in many chemists and health food stores. This medicinal Chinese balm has been used for centuries and contains a blend of natural ingredients including camphor, menthol, clove oil, cajuput oil, mint oil, cinnamon oil and paraffin. It helps to ease muscular aches and pains and can even be used for tension headaches!
#13. Get stretching
Improving your flexibility can help protect against neck and shoulder injuries, and can also help to stretch out those nasty knots that cause pain. It's easy to improve your flexibility – try our 8 easy ways to boost your flexibility, or carry out a few simple stretches mid and post-workout to ensure your muscles are long, lean and flexible.
#14. Improve your posture
Slumping at a desk all day is bad for your spine, your shoulders and your neck, whether you work from home or in an office. You might not be able to quit your 9 to 5, but you can improve your posture by sitting properly in your chair. Shuffle back in your seat and press your back against the back of the chair – that's the position you should spend most of the day in, not leaning forward over the screen. Pilates is also a great way to improve your posture and you could sign up for a class in your lunch break for the perfect lunchtime workout that will leave you feeling energised.
#15. Change your sleep surroundings
Often, it's the little things that make the most difference. Take a look at your sleeping arrangements if you're suffering from unexplained back, neck or shoulder pain. Is your mattress supportive enough and the correct firmness? How is your pillow – is it supporting you or sagging in the middle with age? You may need to invest in a new mattress and pillows to keep your neck and back supported whilst you sleep; well worth it to enjoy instant relief from neck and shoulder pain.