"The specific causes vary from person to person. Generally speaking, shoulder and neck tension develops from a perfect storm of postural imbalance and energetic or emotional 'holding,'" says Caroline Cardino, a yoga instructor, massage therapist and acupuncturist.
Rachel Hardy, certified massage therapist, myofascial release therapist and somatic wellness coach, also points to things like long work hours without breaks (or stretching), overall stress levels, lack of adequate hydration and nutrition, shallow breathing, anxiety, previous injuries and repetitive motions without adequate breaks and self care.
So what's a person to do?
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Can stress worsen tension?
"Stress is basically feeling fear and being overloaded or overwhelmed in any given experience... When we're overwhelmed and stressed out, this is where we'll feel it," says Cardino.
Add that stress to long hours at our desks, behind steering wheels, or looking down at phones, our head, neck and core muscles undergo a lot of strain, often leaving them quite overworked by the end of the day.
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What changes can you make?
Cardino has a few suggestions to help with your alignment:
1. Hold your phone more directly in front of your face when you scroll.
2. Set your computer screen up at eye-level by adjusting your seat height and/or stacking books under your monitor.
3. If you're using a laptop for long stretches of time, get a wireless keyboard and mouse so you can raise your laptop and set it up a little farther from your face while you type (this has the added benefit of being a more flattering set-up for Zoom meetings).
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Self care is key
For her part, Hardy also has the following tips:
1. Take mini pause-and-stretch breaks throughout the work day. Even a couple minutes can be very effective!
2. Set clear boundaries for yourself (this helps your nervous system feel safer and less likely to become dysregulated).
3. Do your best to get adequate exercise, sleep, nutrition and hydration.
4. Give yourself time to wind down at the end of the work day.
5. Breathwork, relaxation, mindfulness, meditation practices can all be helpful.
6. Epsom salt soaks are often helpful for muscle soreness and pain.
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An exercise to stretch your neck:
"To gently stretch and release the neck muscles, tilt your right ear slowly towards your right shoulder until you feel a stretch in the left side of the neck. At the same time, gently reach your left hand towards the floor to increase the stretch. Pause for a couple easy breaths. Then, gently turn your nose to point down towards the floor and feel the stretch move towards the back of the neck. Pause for two or three breaths here. Repeat on the other side," recommends Hardy.
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