Neck and shoulder pain


Who doesn’t have tight neck and shoulder muscles these days? Emotional stresses are often held in this area. The repetitive stress of computer users, chefs, dental hygienists, trades people and many other activities all cause wear and tear in the shoulders and neck. Age is also a factor. Aging is mostly a process of stagnation and the breakdown of communication and nutrient flow between body systems. Condensed tissue causes stagnation on every level from lymph, nutrients and waste material to neural information.

Tension headaches often originate from tight trapezius muscles on the back side of the shoulders and neck. Numbness and tingling in the hands (similar to carpal tunnel syndrome) may be due to shortened scalene muscles in the front of the neck. They attach to the top two ribs, and if the scalenes are tight, they can pull those ribs up towards the collar bone, compressing the nerves that extend down the arm (the brachial plexus). At the same time, continuous and strenuous use of the arm muscles can feed back into the shoulders and neck, making them feel worse.

Many people experience rotator cuff injuries, and chronic tightness in the shoulder joints can result in bursitis and frozen shoulder. The shoulder girdle (collar bone and shoulder blades) is quite mobile, and the arms have a wide range of motion. This flexibility allows us to do many different things with the arms, but these structures are also prone to injury when we over-do it.

Whiplash is an obvious example of how neck issues can create problems in the head. There are interesting inter-connections between the structure and function of the cervical spine, cranium and jaw. Problems in any of these areas will often refer into the others.


Pain between the shoulder blades is a common complaint. This can appear when the Rhomboid muscles between the scapulae  are short and tight, pulling them towards the spine, and also when the Pectoralis Minor and Serratus Anterior muscles in the front of the shoulders are short. In this instance, the shoulder blades are pulled apart and the muscles near the spine are stretched and tight. In either case, the shoulder girdle is out of balance, and upper thoracic vertebrae will likely be restricted in their movement. If one shoulder is higher, lower or tighter than the other, it might be a problem strictly within the shoulder. Or it could originate from a misaligned pelvis and sacrum; – or even from a short leg. (See my SCOLIOSIS PAGE for more about this.)

What to do? I suggest that you stretch, strengthen and balance. Stretching can be accomplished by means of yoga, or simple stretches that target areas of chronic tension. Likewise, areas of weakness can be identified and strengthened, either with a personal trainer, or with a holistic strengthening system such as Pilates. Balance within the components of the head, neck and shoulder complex is one of the goals of Rolfing. Rolfing is useful as a treatment for specific areas of injury, but also as a means of establishing balance of the upper body with the lower, the left side with the right, the front with the back, and the surface with the deeper layers. For the emotional components of neck and shoulder pain, I have found meditation to be the most effective way to give the mind some space.