One of the most common ailments we hear of in the studio are tight shoulders and neck. With all the work we do on computers and devices, it’s no wonder! We round forward and carry tension in our shoulders so often that our bodies are bound to react.
Here are some tips for wringing your shoulders of stress and keeping your neck feeling great.
Roll it out
1) Use a massage ball (or tennis ball) to increase blood flow in your forearms and hands. Place the ball on a stable surface and press the weight of your arm into it, rolling the ball towards your palm and back towards your elbow. Be sure not to roll directly on the bone; we’re trying to massage the muscle and tissues.
2) Lay down on your back with a foam roller under your head like a pillow. It should be at the base of your skull supporting the back of your head. Gently turn your head from side to side, as if you’re dipping one ear towards the floor. If it feels good, you can play with dipping your chin towards your chest or tipping it up towards the ceiling. Keep breathing!
3) You’ll need a massage ball and a wall for this one. Stand with your back to the wall, then sandwich the ball between the frame and your upper trapezius (the part of your upper back that can never get enough massaging). Shift your weight from side to side and up and down, allowing you to roll out that whole area.
Pro Tip: Listen to you body! if it feels like too much, back off a bit. If one spot feels particularly tender, stay there for a moment as you breathe deeply and ease into the pressure.
Heat it up
Hot water bottles aren’t just for when you’re sick! If your back (upper or lower) is feeling achy, lay on your stomach with a full water bottle on your back. If you're sitting with your back against a chair, stick the bottle between your back and the chair to keep the heat where you need it most.
You can also apply heat with a weighted massage pillow. They’re typically filled with rice and sometimes essential oils like lavender, and most you can pop in the microwave (make sure it’s microwave-safe!) for a minute or two. These are advantageous because they are more malleable — you can lay a long atop your shoulders like a shawl.
On the go? Massage a salve like icy hot or tiger balm into the area for a warming sensation without the bulk.
Stretch it out
To keep your neck and shoulders feeling limber, keep moving. Take a break from the computer every once in a while to stretch your upper body.
1) Place your right hand over your head and on top of your left ear. Gently tilt your head so your right ear moves towards your right shoulder. For more of a stretch, reach your left arm slightly out to the side on a low diagonal. Turn your palm to face forward for more of a stretch across your left bicep.
Pro Tip: Be sure not to pull! Start slowly and gently and keep breathing. Hold for a few breaths, then switch side. If you find one side is tighter than the other, feel free to give it some extra love.
2) To open your chest, interlace your fingers behind your back and extend your arms behind you. Keep a slight bend in your elbows so your shoulder blades draw together. Maybe tip your chin up towards the ceiling or tilt your head gently from side to side, whatever feels good. Take a few breaths, then interlace your fingers the other way (the way that feels completely awkward) and repeat.
3) You can never do too many cat-cow’s! Set yourself up on your knees and palms with your shoulders over your wrists and hips over your knees. Actively press the floor away with your palms so you don’t sink into your wrists and shoulders. On an inhale, reach your tailbone and the crown of your head towards the ceiling, allowing your back to arch and your belly to move down towards the floor. Keep length in your neck — you should still be able to talk and breathe comfortably.
On an exhale, pull your navel into your spine and reverse the movement: reach the crown of your head and your tailbone towards the floor, drawing your belly button up to the ceiling. Keep your shoulders down and your collarbones wide so you don’t collapse in your chest.
Repeat as many times as feels good! I’d recommend closing your eyes and imagining your spine is stretching an inch longer with every breath.
Pro tip: The traditional version of cat-cow is done on knees and palms, but you can do this movement of your spine sitting tall at your desk, too! It’s a great way to keep your body mobile while you’re at work.
**Disclaimer: As always, if you're experiencing acute pain, especially for a long period of time, please see a doctor.
Author: Ali Weeks