Upper back, shoulder and neck pain are common occasional occurrences, but, for some, the pain becomes chronic. Often, the pain comes on during or after a stressful day, an unfamiliar task or overexertion and goes away in a couple days. How does the pain become chronic?
Pain in these areas of the body is almost always associated with muscle tension, and muscle tension is almost always associated with poor posture. The main connector of the upper back, neck and shoulders is the trapezius muscles, which stretches from the middle of the back up through the neck and over into the shoulders. If tension of the trapezius is causing pain, then, shouldn’t the cure be sitting up straighter and stretching it out?
Chronic tension causes muscle knots called trigger points. The pain caused by trigger points may be referred to other areas of the body if they press on surrounding nerves. Trigger points are isolated spasms of muscle tissue and the connective tissue surrounding the muscle called myofascia. They make it difficult to restore elasticity to the muscle and impossible for simple stretching to do the trick. Trigger points in the shoulders and neck can cause tension headaches and migraines.
Myofascial release is a therapy intended to break up trigger points. It can be sought from a professional masseuse trained in trigger point massage or self-administered with the help of massage aides; this latter technique is called self-myofascial release (SMR). SMR usually entails the use of a foam roller, but for the shoulders and the neck, foam rollers aren’t very effective. You’ll need a smaller device that can hone in on knots in these compact areas.
Two popular and highly-rated products for this purpose are the Body Back Buddy and the Thera Cane, each selling for $35 on Amazon.com. Other, smaller devices are available with a number of bumps that you can lay on, positioning the bumps on your knots.
Once you have broken up muscle knots, you can pursue a regular stretching regimen for your neck. This should be coupled with posture awareness and ergonomic adjustments to your work and home space that facilitate proper posture. Raise your mobile device up to eye level rather than craning your neck toward it. Position your computer screen so that it is clearly visible with neutral neck posture. Keep your shoulders centered, low and loose.
Postural dysfunction is a common neck pain cause. Relieving pain means correcting the immediate tension and adjusting your behaviors that caused it in the first place.