Many of us are now spending a lot more of our time in our homes, and it’s fair to say that our routines have been flipped upside down. Working from home is now common practice, and since we’re following guidelines to reduce non-essential activity outside of the home, our step count has likely taken a hit. Our bodies are of course feeling the effects of this, and you’re not alone if your neck and shoulder area is one you’ve felt some tension in recently.
In this article, we’ll touch on some of the causes of neck and shoulder pain, and explore five methods for prevention and reduction, from posture to over-the-counter medication.
What Causes Neck and Shoulder Pain?
Aches and soreness in the neck and shoulders can occur for a variety of reasons, often associated with sprains and strains from sports or other overexertions, but commonly from something as simple as incorrect posture.
Some common causes may include but are not limited to:
- Bad Posture or Sleeping Position
- Soft Tissue Injuries such as sprains or tears, typically from sport, whiplash or other accidents.
- Cervical spondylosis (cervical osteoarthritis) – a condition characterised by the wearing of the spinal disks in the neck. It’s commonly associated with ageing, affecting more than 85% of those over the age of 60.
- Pinched Nerve (Cervical radiculopathy) – a compression or irritation of the nerve in the neck that branches away from the spinal cord, causing pain that can radiate to the shoulders.
In some cases, neck and shoulder pain can be a symptom of a more serious issue such as Meningitis or Stable Angina (although usually in addition to other symptoms). If your pain is prolonged, significant or your range of motion is greatly limited, then you should arrange to see a doctor.
Methods of Prevention and Treatment
Here are five different methods to help reduce your neck and shoulder pain.
1. Correct your sleep
Considering we spend between a quarter to a third of our lives sleeping, it’s important to make sure that sleep quality isn’t overlooked. Poor sleep can contribute significantly to neck and shoulder pain, so make sure you try these easy improvements to your sleep routine.
If you tend to sleep on your front, it might be time to try a different position. Front sleeping forces the head to one side and may lead to neck strain, so consider back sleeping. Whilst sleeping on your side tends to be better for the neck, it can cause stiffness in the shoulders. Unless sleep apnea or snoring is a particular issue, sleeping on your back is great for both your neck and shoulders.
Being conscious of spinal alignment whilst sleeping is critical to neck health, and too many pillows or too high a pillow will tilt your neck into an unfavourable position. It is worth experimenting to find what works best for you, but often a softer pillow will be better for your neck than a stiffer one. A memory foam orthopedic pillow may be a good option if you’re not having any luck with regular down-filled pillows.
2. Sitting at a desk
Working long hours at a desk is common practice nowadays (although try to take regular breaks throughout the day!), so it’s worth considering if aspects of your setup are contributing to pains and aches.
One of the best investments for your home office or work space is a comfortable and supportive chair. Whilst your lower back will be the biggest beneficiary of this, your improved posture will promote healthy shoulder and neck positions. Adjust the height and tilt for more comfortable working, and consider a chair with a high back for additional upper back and shoulder support.
Make sure that the screens you’re working from are at the ideal height; the top of your monitor/s should be at eye level, so consider raising these or adjusting your chair height so you’re not straining to view your work. If you’re working from a laptop, consider a raised stand to bring it closer to naturally eye level.
Standing whilst working
Even after making the above adjustments, being in only one position for extended periods of time is not ideal, and varying between sitting and standing could be the answer. Try using a standing desk, and alternating between sitting and standing positions throughout the day. At the top end, motorised desks that raise and lower are growing in popularity, but using a chair or coffee table on top of your desk can provide an easy alternative to provide some variety.
3. Over the counter pain relief
For an effective and immediate solution to relieving neck or shoulder pain, over the counter pain relief medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen are affordable options. A pain relief gel such as Voltarol could also be a great option, especially in the reduction of any inflammation you may have.
An alternative dietary supplement that has seen growing popularity in recent years is CBD Oil or related products. Whilst research into Cannabidiol is in its infancy, early studies indicate the potential beneficial effects on some forms of chronic pain, so if your neck and shoulder pain is persistent, this is definitely worth trying out. You can learn more about CBD on our health centre blog post, ‘CBD: Seven Things You Need to Know’.
4. Neck and shoulder exercises
A great way to prevent your neck and shoulders from aching is to do regular stretches that target these areas. Below are three examples of easy to do stretches that you can do even whilst seated. Taking care not to overly strain your affected areas, we recommend performing these exercises at a gentle pace.
Whilst sitting or standing, bring your head straight back whilst looking straight ahead. Gently turn your head to one side as far as you comfortably can. For an added stretch, tilt your head downwards whilst in this position, trying to look over your shoulder, but be conscious to keep your shoulders level throughout the movement. Return to the neutral position and repeat on your opposite side. Repeat this sequence five times.
Shoulder Blade Pull
Whilst sitting or standing, raise your arms out in front of you with bent elbows as if you were riding a bicycle. Whilst relaxing your shoulders and neck, and keeping your neck still, squeeze your upper back muscles between your shoulder blades, drawing your shoulder blades closer together. Return to the neutral position, and repeat five times.
In either the seated or standing position, hang your arms loosely by your sides. Slowly move your shoulders up, back, and down in a circular pattern, and repeat this movement 10 times.
5. Use a Heat Pad
A different approach to treating neck and shoulder pain is heat therapy. This will open up your blood vessels and increase the localised blood flow to your neck and shoulders. The benefit of increasing blood flow is to speed up the process of healing around the strained muscles. You can make a heat pad easily at home with the below method:
- Wet two hand towels with water, squeezing out any excess water so that they’re just damp.
- Place one towel into a ziplock bag, and with the bag open, microwave on a high heat for 2 minutes.
- Being careful of the heat, remove and seal the ziplock bag, and wrap the other wet towel around the bag.
- Hold the homemade heat pad on your neck or shoulder and move it around the painful areas.
The suitability of these tips to help treat neck and shoulder pain will differ from person to person, especially when it comes to the level of pain being experienced and varying daily routines. Therefore, we recommend taking the time to trial these pain relief tips and find out what works best for you. With that said, if your neck and shoulder pain is persistent, take note of your posture during the parts of your day that you’re often in the same position, be that sitting on your sofa or desk chair, or sleeping, as a small correction during these periods can often result in prolonged relief.