Neck & Shoulder Pain

June 20, 2016

What is the most common cause of neck and shoulder pain?  Does mental stress play a role?  What’s the best way to treat neck and shoulder pain?  Does physical therapy play a role?  Salonpas spoke with doctors, physical therapist and other wellness professionals about treating neck and shoulder pain.

Neck and shoulder pain can be classified in many different ways.  The most common cause of neck and shoulder pain is due to injury to the soft tissues including the muscles, tendons and ligaments within these structures.

Dr. Nathan Wei

Dr. Nathan Wei

“It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of neck and shoulder pain,” says Dr. Nathan Wei, Arthritis Treatment Center.   “Sometimes neck pain can cause referred pain to the shoulder and vice-versa.  The most common neck-related pain issues are due to arthritis or degenerative disc disease.  Shoulder pain can be caused by arthritis, tendonitis (rotator cuff or biceps) and bursitis.  The proper diagnosis points towards the correct therapy.”

Mental stress is also a major cause of neck and shoulder pain and stiffness.  A delay in treating minor pain could lead to chronic shoulder and neck pain which is the primary cause for intense headaches.

Eric Wilson with a client

Eric Wilson with a client

“Most shoulder and neck pain I see comes from sitting for prolonged periods, as well as being on computers and cell phones during that seated time,” says Eric Wilson, Nationally Certified, Master Level Personal Trainer and Biomechanics Method practitioner.  The Biomechanics Method is a corrective exercise education for the health and fitness professional that offers a systemic approach to corrective exercise that treats the body as a whole unit working together, not just individual systems.

“When we are seated, not only are our shoulders, neck and head affected, but also our lumbo-pelvic hip complex, which has a chain reaction effect all the way up the spine,” says Wilson. “When we sit, our shoulders tend to round forward with our head looking down, and our chin juts forward. This causes the muscles in the back of the neck to work overtime to keep our head up.”

“The human head can weigh about as much as an 11 pound bowling ball. Imagine holding that bowling ball in front of your body right against your abdomen; it’s not too terribly difficult,” says Wilson. “Now extend your arms straight and see how long it takes before your shoulder muscles start to burn. When we sit or stand with rounded shoulders and a forward tilted head, it puts an enormous amount of strain on the smaller neck muscles which are only meant to stabilize the head, not support it under full strain all day.”

“Most pain issues in the neck and shoulder can be managed conservatively without surgery,” says Dr. Wei.  “Topical measures such as Salonpas® can be quite effective by placing a Salonpas® pain reliever directly at the site of pain.”

What are other ways to treat neck and shoulder pain?  “There are two major phases of treatment I use for the acute phase and the chronic phase,” says Eric Wilson. “For the acute phase, I teach my clients to use self-myofascial release (foam rolling) to help relax the muscles and decrease their pain. This is where they can get that instant relief of the muscle settling down and that’s where I see the huge smile emerge on their faces at the end of a session. For many cases, they can also use a pain management patch or cream like Salonpas® to help reduce their pain enough for them to get through their day, and do the exercises needed in order to correct the chronic issue.”

“To improve the chronic issue, I do a full body fitness assessment which allows me to me determine where their imbalance is coming from, as well as evaluating which lifestyle factors play a part in their neck and shoulder pain. Some of the first things Wilson asks his clients are:

  • What is your work environment like?
  • Are you sitting all day?
  • Have you had any surgeries or injuries to the area?
  • Are you sleeping well, and are you using the right pillow and sleep position?

“Many times, if someone is waking up with worse neck pain and it gets better as the day goes on, then it is usually a sleeping habit that is causing their neck pain,” says Wilson.  “If it is the opposite, then I look for a daily lifestyle pattern that can be causing their pain. I then start to strengthen the weakened muscles and stretch the ones that have become chronically tight.”

“If someone is having neck pain due to prolonged sitting and forward head posture, the neck flexors (muscles in the front of the neck) are usually weak and too long, and the neck extensors (muscles in the back of the neck) are usually tight and very strong,” says Wilson. “We work to strengthen and tighten the neck flexors, and stretch and relax the neck extensors. This helps to pull the head back over the shoulders a bit and take some stress off the neck extensor muscles.”

“I also focus on strengthening the shoulder blades by incorporating more pulling exercises into their routine, as well as developing the muscles that help to push the shoulders down away from the ears,” says Wilson. “Most neck and shoulder pain, unless caused by a specific site injury, is related to muscular dysfunction in another part of the body.”

Some people are “rolling away” their aches and pains with a line of massage tools called Muscle Glide which target deep and sensitive tissue.

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