By: Phil Evans
Appointments at the Urban Body physiotherapy clinic in Olton have trebled over the past year as increasing numbers of patients have developed neck and shoulder pain, many as a result of working from home. Lead Physiotherapist Phil Evans has 10 recommendations for avoiding neck and shoulder pain, mainly focusing on your back:
- Strengthen your back
The strength in your lower back dictates the position that your neck and shoulder will take up. If you can get into the routine of doing simple stretches and exercises which target your lower back muscles, you will benefit throughout your life.
- Wear sensible footwear, even at home
High heels, sandals, flip-flops and plimsole style trainers are all proven to add pressure and stress to your spine because there’s a lack of cushioning to absorb shock, and the same goes for bare feet and slippers. Without cushioned footwear, your lower back has to take all of the impact every time your foot lands on the floor, which isn’t good for your achilles, knees or hips either. Wearing soft, well fitted shoes or trainers instead at all times could reduce your back pain by as much as 25%.
- Desk set up
Ensure your computer is set at the correct height when you’re sitting, with the middle of the screen being at eye level. Your desk and chair should be adjusted to the height that allows you to reach the work surface easily when your arms are at your sides with the elbows bent to 90 degrees.
Your office chair should have a full back that extends from the seat of the chair to your shoulders or above, to support your lower back and prevent slouching. Keep your feet flat on the floor and slightly ahead of your knees, which are bent at a 90- to 120-degree angle.
If you’re looking downwards your spine becomes more and more rounded, stretching the muscles and putting more force on the joints and pressure on the discs. Tension in these sensitive areas is likely to cause pain in the neck and shoulders so try to keep your shoulders relaxed, upper arms to fall normally at your sides and elbows close to your body.
- Don’t sit for more than 20 minutes
Humans are not designed to sit, it goes against the fundamental rules of evolution. Sitting multiplies the pressure on your spine x 10 from your head than when you stand tall. This often causes pain and tension in the neck and shoulder region because many of us slouch, meaning the muscles in your spine that are designed to protect you (the core muscle group) simply don’t work. So if you have to sit for long periods, get up for a quick walk and stretch every 20 minutes to wake up your body.
- Reading in bed
Avoid reading for more than 20 minutes in bed because your head is looking forwards and down, which increases tension in your muscles. It’s a bit like stretching an elastic band too far, eventually it will fray and even snap. Worse, at this late time of day, your muscles are already tired and weak so placing them under even more pressure will inevitably increase tension.
- Sleep position
Avoid sleeping on your stomach like the plague because there isn’t a more effective, faster route to self-inflicted damage to your neck and shoulder. Every part of your neck and shoulder joint is twisted and in the wrong position.
Sleep with one soft pillow if possible because taking away a second pillow lowers the amount of stretching and tension in your neck. Frequent headaches, migraines, poor posture and constant shoulder tension are a sign of spending every night in the wrong position.
- Pilates and Yoga
Pilates is a series of exercises designed to improve muscle tone and the lack of control that is the root cause of neck and shoulder pain and stiffness in most people. Yoga is equally beneficial, comprising stretches designed to make your body more supple and more flexible. Regular Pilates and Yoga essentially strengthen the body to fight the impact of ageing, especially for those over 40.
- Think about how you carry bags
Carrying a bag or backpack on one arm or in one hand adds tension to your neck and shoulder because the weight isn’t evenly distributed, causing one side of your body to be under more pressure than the other. If you carry a bag over the same shoulder all the time, you could end up with a curvature of the spine because that side is working much harder than the other. This will lead to pain, not to mention an unhealthy looking posture which will make you look older than your years.
- Water and ice
We all know the importance of keeping hydrated by drinking lots of water, but using ice is also a great way of preventing serious shoulder and neck pain. At the end of a busy day when you’re feeling a little achy, apply an ice pack to the affected area for around 10 minutes and repeat every hour, if necessary. It can also be beneficial to apply a hot water bottle when your neck and shoulder is feeling more stiff than painful, again for around 10 minutes.
- Get hands on
Doctors are prescribing anti-inflammatories and paracetamol which provide a quick fix by masking serious pain but are failing to diagnose and treat the root cause of the problem, resulting in continued discomfort. Our patients are reporting a lack of mobility, stiffness, severe headaches and disturbed sleep.
The NHS has adopted a hands off approach since 2013 but deep massage of tight, aching muscles is vital to ease neck and shoulder pain, doing naturally what the doctor is trying to do with painkillers. Physiotherapy also loosens and lubricates stiff, stuck and painful joints, strengthening your body. After manual re-alignment, exercises at home will help speed up the recovery process and will work at giving more movement and strength, as well as improving posture.
Urban Body’s physiotherapy and rehabilitation clinic is at the West Warwickshire Sports Club in Olton, and the team has more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic. All staff have received Coronavirus vaccines and face-to-face appointments are being offered, with masks being worn at all times.