The reason this blog contains neck & shoulder pain AND headaches is that often people can’t decide what it is they really have. Pain in this area can be vague and confusing. It can often shift around and can be in the area that’s between your neck and upper shoulder. Some people get headaches with their neck/shoulder pain, yet others don’t.
Whichever of these scenarios sounds similar to your pain, these tips will help. Much of pain has directly to do with daily habits. For that reason, many of the tips included are very simple. That’s the best part. Making simple changes to the way you move during the day can immediately impact the amount of neck & shoulder pain and headaches you have.
My advice to you is to select one thing at a time and build a habit over a few weeks. Try each one out within the next couple of days, and then pick whichever one you felt had the most impact. With this strategy you’ll get the most pain relief quickest, and the others will gradually add to your relief.
TIP 1: Are you aware of your neck position?
Where is your neck while you’re reading this right now? Are you at your computer with your chin jutted out towards the monitor? Or are you leaning waaaay back? Are you on your phone with your head hanging so you can read in your lap?
Many times neck & shoulder pain is aggravated by our daily habits. Imagine that you had a paper cut, and before it could heal, you stuck a piece of paper in it and pulled just a little bit. As gross as that seems, that’s what’s happening to your neck if you have neck pain and you keep putting it in positions that cause strain.
A good rule of thumb is to keep enough space for an orange underneath your chin. If you’re looking down, use your eyes rather than hanging your head.
TIP 2: Where are your shoulders at?
Many people are unaware that they are constantly shrugging their shoulders. Can you relax your shoulders and let them drop right now? If you were able to feel your shoulders drop and relax, chances are that you’re one of those people!
A good time to practice keeping your shoulders relaxed is when you’re at your desk, or when you’re driving. Tune into your shoulders every so often to see if they can be relaxed. With practice, over time you’ll find that relaxing your shoulders becomes a habit.
If you’re looking for more for your shoulders, click here to check out some more specific exercises.
TIP 3: How do you bend down?
When you bend down to look on the bottom shelf of the fridge, or in a cabinet, are you squatting down or are you bending forward at the hips? When you bend forward at the hips you have to tilt your head waaay back to look up. This can put a lot of pressure at the joints in the back of your neck, especially if you also turn your head to the side.
Instead, bend at the knees and crouch down to look in these low spaces. Then if you have to look up, use your eyes instead of extending your neck so much.
TIP 4: How are you with your phone?
Error #1: The shoulder shrug
Are you someone who holds the phone between their ear and shoulder? Chances are that you’re compressing the joints in the side of the neck that you’re bent towards. Not only does the position put pressure on the joints, but the muscle that you’re using to elevate your shoulder also compresses the joints.
Error #2: The active upper trap
If you like to hold the phone up to your ear simply make sure that your shoulder isn’t shrugging automatically when you do so. Relax your shoulder like in Tip #2!
The best way to avoid these mistakes is to use bluetooth or speaker phone as often as possible.
TIP 5: Choosing a Pillow for Neck Pain
Are you a side sleeper? Or do you prefer to sleep on your back? Your pillow thickness matters.
The most important thing to consider when you’re choosing a pillow is the position of your neck. If you sleep on your side and your pillow is thin, then your neck will be bent towards the bed for the entire night. This means that the joints on the side you’re sleeping on will be compressed, and the muscles on the opposite side will be stretched. This can cause continued irritation in both the joints and muscles.
If you sleep on your back and your pillow is too thick, it will cause your neck to be pulled up the entire night which will make the muscles in the back of your neck and upper part of your shoulders to get stiff. If it’s too thin, your head will be bent backwards the entire night causing more pressure in the joints in the back of the neck.
So what pillow do you need? You need a pillow that fits your sleeping preference and will allow your neck to be in a neutral position. Not bent forward, backwards, or sideways. For that reason I recommend pillows that are malleable, or able to be bunched up and flattened at will. When you’re on your side you can bunch it up under your neck, then when you roll to your back, it’s thin enough that it doesn’t keep your neck in an uncomfortable flexed position.
TIP 6: Stop sleeping on your stomach
This one is about as clear cut as we can make it. Sleeping on your stomach is simply not good for your neck. If you must sleep on your stomach to be comfortable, you may want to cut a hole in your mattress so you can sleep face down! Otherwise, best of luck.
Tip #7: Make a decision to get help from a Physical Therapist:
Neck pain is complicated. The problem is that people get stuck on treatments that are only designed to put band-aids on the pain. These treatments don’t solve the root cause of the problem. In order to identify and solve the root cause of your neck & shoulder pain, you need the help of an expert physical therapist.
When I say expert physical therapist, I don’t mean just any physical therapist. We’re not all created equal. You need a physical therapist who understands that your neck pain is not just about your pain. It’s about all of the things you can’t do that you used to enjoy doing. It’s about being present with your friends and family. It’s about feeling strong and active. It’s about feeling like yourself again. An expert will help you identify the activities that you want to get back to most, and put together a roadmap that helps you see exactly how you’re going to get where you need to go.
Our experts at The Doctors of Physical Therapy help people overcome neck & shoulder pain every single day. We help them get back to their active lives, so they can enjoy time with friends and family and not worry about if they’re going to need to take pills forever, or eventually need surgery.
If you’ve been suffering with neck & shoulder pain for longer than a week, it’s already been too long. The waiting game has already proven ineffective. You may have already tried getting relief from massage, physical therapy, chiropractic, or even injections. These are things that many of our patients have tried before coming to see us. Sometimes they work, other times they don’t. But at the end of the day these are band-aid solutions.
If you’re starting to consider that you want a long term solution to your pain so that you can get back to a life you enjoy and love, then call us today. Our phone number is 480-482-0651. If it’s after hours, call and leave a message. If you would like to give us a couple more details on what you’re concerned about and what’s been bothering you, click here to fill out our “Cost And Availability Form“.
Don’t wait, because we know that when you go to sleep tonight, you’ll likely be thinking “it might be better tomorrow.” And guess what? It might be a little better, so you’ll put it off another day. And this can happen again and again for months.
Do yourself a favor and give us a call and inquire about what it takes to work with our expert physical therapists to finally rid yourself of neck pain for good.