The Bad Habits Damaging Your Neck & Shoulders (and How to Change Them)

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It’s easy to find yourself with a headache at the end of a long day, and we know it can often be caused by muscular tension in the neck and shoulders. But what exactly is creating this unnatural muscular tension that results in headaches and a general sense of fatigue or restlessness? Is it simply stress, or is it something specific that we can actually tackle? Fortunately, dear reader, you need not wonder any longer. Being an expert in muscular physiology and sports massage techniques gives me a good idea of the answer to this question, and I’ll share my thoughts below. As you may be able to guess, I’m not a fan of attributing everything to stress and then, due to feelings of overwhelm, giving up on the idea of improving your symptoms. Stress management is very important (especially in our modern, busy lives), but it can be broken down into manageable steps to make it much easier. Sometimes, the smallest changes to our daily habits can add up to the biggest positive impact in our lives. The following ideas may seem simple, but it’s surprising how many people pay no attention to them. Perhaps they seem like they’d be too insignificant to bother with? But if you do give some thought to these suggestions, I’m certain that you’ll find yourself feeling more energetic at the end of a long, stressful day. Remember: Our bodies crave variety in movement and activity. So if you’ve found yourself with negative, repetitive habits like the ones below, changing them up will make you feel refreshed and energetic.

What You'll Need

  • Begin to listen to what your body is telling you.
  • Make the most of the smallest and simplest adjustments.

What You'll Do

  • Alternate Your Bag from Shoulder to Shoulder Usually this bad habit is cemented during our childhoods, when we get used to carrying heavy books in a bag over one shoulder every day. Even if kids use a backpack, it’s often not adjusted correctly to relieve strain on their shoulders and spine (but that’s a topic for another post!). But even as adults, it’s rare for us to question whether it’s really a good idea to carry a bag on the same shoulder every day. It’s actually best not to carry a heavy bag every day at all. But of course it’s unavoidable sometimes, so when you can’t use a wheeled suitcase or trolley make sure you follow our directions here. Check the weight of your bag and reduce it if necessary (aim for no more than 10% of your total bodyweight) Think about your neck, shoulders and spine—are they aligned, and can you keep them aligned throughout your entire journey? Take breaks during your journey if it’s more than a few minutes long Distribute the items in your bag evenly; don’t put a heavy water bottle on one side and just a packet of crisps on the other! Always carry your bag on the opposite shoulder to the one you last used For even better results, use a bag with two straps: one for each shoulder
  • Hold Your Phone at Chin-Height This is one of the most modern problems on this list: Staring down at our eternally-fascinating smartphone screens for hours at a time. Checking your email, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, replying to texts and then re-checking your email to see what’s new—we’re all vulnerable to those endless mini dopamine hits! But new research is coming out that shows just how damaging this chin-to-chest pose is for our neck and shoulders. Instead of gazing down at your phone, try holding it up so that it’s at the same level as your chin. Yes, this will feel very strange at first! But I promise that you’ll also notice how much less strained your neck is.
  • Take Your Hands Out of Your Pockets While many of us find ourselves spending most of the day sitting at our desks, we can still take advantage of certain opportunities to practice great standing posture. Whenever you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, queuing in a coffee shop or having a quick chat with a colleague on your way out of the office, you can engage all kinds of underused muscles. By positioning your feet correctly and clasping your hands behind your back (take a look at this post for photos and a more detailed description), you can set off a chain reaction that makes it easier to put your neck and shoulders in a healthy, relaxed position. The result? Far less tension in your neck, shoulders and chest, which means it’s far less likely that you’ll experience stress headaches and fatigue as 5pm rolls around.
  • Listen with Both Ears (or Use Hands-Free) Another one of the more modern problems is spending too much time on the phone, tilting your head while you chat with friends or listen to your mum’s news. You have probably spotted the trend by now, so it’ll be no surprise to hear that maintaining an unnatural position like that puts stress on your neck. That stress will trigger additional tension across your shoulders, back and chest, which is what we want to avoid in our daily lives. So make sure you either switch ears every 10 minutes, or make use of a hands-free kit so that you can sit or stand upright while you’re on the phone. Add in a few shoulder rolls and perhaps some gentle leg stretches, and that long phonecall could leave you feeling really refreshed!

Tips & Warnings

  • There can be many causes of neck and back pain and you should always seek professional advice and/or treatment if the tension is due to injury, comes on suddenly, is acute, sharp or stabbing pain, causes pain referral, produces numbness or parasthesia (pins & needles) in the area or another part of the body or ALWAYS, if for any reason you are concerned about the tension or pain and your body is telling you that it just does not feel right.
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