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  • 5 Reasons Your Shoulders Hurt

    Pain in shoulder

    I see clients every day with one sort of shoulder pain or another. Some days, every client  I see has shoulder issues. Every. Single. One.

    In my 10+ years of specializing in neck and shoulder issues, I’ve found that there are 5 main, preventable reasons for shoulder pain.

    I’m not feeling particularly wordy today so I’ll just jump right in and list them in no particular order, other than the one in which they occurred to me:

    1. Carrying Too Much Weight, Too Often

    Carrying things on your shoulders means that the muscles must tense up to keep them there. The heavier the item you’re carrying, the more it pulls your shoulder downward, and the more the shoulder muscles have to contract to hold it up. The more often you carry stuff on your shoulder(s) the less likely it is that your shoulders will fully recover without some help. A few of the common culprits: purses, computer bags, messenger bags, and backpacks. 
    A few prevention tips:
    ~ Always wear backpacks high on the back with the straps over both shoulders
    ~ Use cross body bags when possible
    ~ Alternate the shoulder you carry purses and other types of shoulder bags on (even the cross body ones) – try wearing it on one shoulder going into the office/store/home and on the other shoulder when you come out
    ~ Switch to a wheeled backpack, computer case, business case, or cart

    2. Stress

    Stress causes your neck and shoulder muscles to tighten up to bring shoulders up and forward in order to protect the front of your neck. This causes one set of muscles to be too short and another set to be too long, which causes both sets to hurt for completely opposite reasons. Ow!
    A few prevention tips:
    ~ Find relaxation techniques that work for you so you can unwind from the stress you experienced during the day. Some suggestions: yoga, meditation, relaxing music, coloring, reading or listening to uplifting books
    ~ Find a way to reduce the stress in your life. This may take the form of fewer commitments, asking for help from others when, or preferably before, you’re overwhelmed, spending less time with “toxic” people, or adopting a different attitude about a stressor that cannot be changed at the moment.
    ~ Find ways to eliminate some of the stressors in your life. Quit the committee you hate serving on, get a different job, say no to things you don’t want to do, or set a routine or schedule to eliminate the chaos of mornings/bedtime/etc.

    3. Sleeping

    If you sleep on your side or stomach your shoulders will be in a forward position all or most of the night. Over time, that strain cause can your shoulders to hurt. To top it all off, if your neck isn’t in proper alignment when you’re sleeping, i.e. your pillow is either too high of too low, your neck muscles will be strained, which will pull on your shoulders and cause them all kinds of pain. 
    A few prevention tips:
    ~ Make sure your pillow is high/low enough so that your neck is aligned with the rest of your spine while sleeping
    ~ Place small pillows or folded towels under each shoulder if you sleep on your stomach to keep them from falling forward. This is especially important if you are large breasted or barrel chested
    ~ Try varying the side you sleep on
    ~ Try sleeping on your back, especially if your shoulders are already hurting (As a lifelong side sleeper, I know how hard this one is to pull off.)

    ~ Sleep with a body pillow when you sleep on your side to keep your upper side from rolling too far forward and further straining your shoulder

    4. Your Tech

    It’s not so much your tech as how often you use it, and more importantly, what your posture is while using it. Desktop computers will cause different issues than laptops, and tablets or phones will cause other types of problems. 
    A few prevention tips:
    ~ Keep screens at eye level to prevent neck strain which will pull on your shoulders and cause them to ache.
    ~ For phones and tablets, it’s especially important to have something to rest your arms on when using your device at eye level. Try using a table, desk, lap desk, a couple pillows, or your arm rests.
    ~ Take frequent breaks and move your arms, shoulders, and neck through their complete range of motion. An ergonomic posture, if completely static, can cause as many problems as bad posture.

    5. Your Hips

    Your hips and shoulders have a direct connection to each other via the gait cycle, aka the way we walk. When we walk, the right leg/hip and left shoulder/arm move at the same time. This means that if you have a problem with your right hip or leg (like sciatica), you’ll likely develop a compensatory issue with your left shoulder or arm eventually.
    A few prevention tips:
    ~ Get hip issues checked out by an appropriate healthcare provider, e.g. doctor, physical therapist, or massage therapist right away.
    ~ When you a have hip/leg issue, watch for compensations in the opposite shoulder/arm. 
    ~ Be mindful of both sides of your body as you walk, sit, lie down, or move. Make sure that both hips and legs are moving the same, or are in the same position relative to each other and surrounding body parts. Ditto for both shoulders and arms.
    ~ When you find differences in your ability to move one hip/leg/shoulder/arm relative to the other, get it checked out and remedied as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the worse it and any compensatory patterns will be. The longer you wait, the longer it’ll take to get relief.

    Like I said at the beginning, there are many other causes of shoulder pain, but these are the 5 that show up in my practice more than any others. 

    How many of these have contributed to your shoulder pain at one time or another? (I can claim all 5.) How many of these have worked against you at the same time? (4) Let me know  your numbers in the comments below.

    Oh yeah, don’t forget to share.