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a woman's neck and shoulders from behind
Lynda Lippin
April 21, 2022

Free Your Neck & Shoulders

Tips to Address Shoulder and Neck Pain

My belief is that life is too short to keep relying on willpower.

So many of us suffer with neck and shoulder pain, and the pandemic has only made things worse. Between stress, work from home arrangements that aren’t always ideal (as I sit on my sofa with my laptop on a stand, on a pillow in my lap), and lack of exercise, we are in a perfect storm for neck and shoulder pain.

Let’s Start At The Pelvis

Good posture starts at the pelvis. When your pelvis is in a “neutral” position, with the hip bones and pubic bones in the same horizontal plane, your lower back can move forward and up, your ribcage can lift up for better breathing, and your neck can lift forward and up.

So, if you sit a lot, tuck your pelvis and flatten out your lower back, and shove your shoulders back and down, you are simply compressing everything downward and inward, tightening all the muscles, which will make your neck feel even worse.

Just sitting, or laying on your back, and moving your pelvis will help. It can go forward and backward, side to side, and around in circles. 

Stop Pushing Your Shoulders Down

One of the first cues that most Pilates, Yoga, and Fitness clients hear is, “Press your shoulders down.” There are many variations on this cue, but they all say the same thing - get your shoulders away from your ears and towards your back pockets.

As someone who experiences neck pain from arthritis and degeneration of my cervical spine, and who has spoken about this with her neurologist, pressing my shoulders down is the worst thing I can do for my neck! My neck needs to lift up, and when I press my shoulders down, I start to strain the muscles that attach my neck to my shoulders and ribcage.

Our shoulders are very mobile and should be, so allow them to move! Think about your arms, collarbones and shoulder blades moving together, rolling around on your ribcage.

Simple Things Can Help

Getting some movement in your day is crucial. Stand up every 60-90 minutes, walk around, take some deep breaths, and move your arms, legs, and head around. 

Shrug your shoulders and drop them a few times, then roll them forward and backward. Turn your head to look behind you a few times each way, bend your head forward and backwards, and then side to side. Do some head circles.

Reach your arms around, lifting up as you can tolerate and maybe doing some big arm circles. Lift up out of your lower back and breathe!

Do Specific Exercises

My belief is that life is too short to keep relying on willpower (or, forcing yourself to do things you hate.) These neck & shoulder exercises can be pleasurable, often helping us feel better quickly, and can be done supine (on your back), seated, or standing.

  1. Conscious Breathing - Feel your ribs move to the front, side, and back as you breathe--the abdominals are helping to move your ribs! Now pay attention to your pelvis. Make sure that you are not pushing your lower back into the floor or chair; your pubic bones should be in the same horizontal line as your hip bones. You may have an arch in your lower back and that's OK, you are supposed to! Basically, feel like you have more weight towards your tailbone and a bit less in your neck and shoulders.
  2. Add Head Nods & Circles - stay in a pain-free range of motion
  3. Move Your Shoulder Blades - forward, backward, up, down, in circles
  4. Move your arms - up, down, forward, backward, and then big arms circles in each direction 

Neck & shoulder pain can be debilitating, but I promise you that with a slow and steady approach to lifting your spine, breathing better, and moving your upper body more, you will start to feel some relief.

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