Have you ever seen someone grimacing, rubbing their neck and talking about how they need to get in for a massage? Neck and shoulder tension is everywhere. Below is an executive summary of what causes neck tension and a couple of simple strategies to work your way out of the discomfort.

How do you know if you’re suffering with neck and shoulder tension?

There are many signs of neck and shoulder tension that you may not have thought of. Go through this checklist below.

  • Get headaches
  • Feel tight between your shoulder blades or at the top of your shoulders
  • You find motion is restricted when you try to turn your head
  • It’s hard to touch your chin to your chest
  • You dislike the feeling of tipping your head way back in space because it hurts or you feel vulnerable
  • It’s hard to keep your arms in the air for an extended period of time
  • There’s a pinch in your shoulders when you raise your arms overhead

These little signs (and many more) can indicate excess tension and strain in the neck and shoulder area.

What causes neck and shoulder tension?

This is a big question, but neck tension is often rooted in postural patterns. There is an ideal way your head, neck, shoulders and ribs should align. The further we get from that ideal, the more likely we are to experience excess tension and even pain.

In lay terms, your head should sit square above your shoulders and your shoulder girdle should fit snugly against your ribs and your ribs should be able to expand into their fullness with ease to form a strong base of support.

To learn more about ideal posture and the best exercises to help find it, check out the Body Harmonics Postural Analysis workshop. It’s designed for teachers, but open to anyone interested in learning more about posture.

How do we keep the neck and shoulders healthy and strong?

An often-overlooked key factor when we experience excess neck and shoulder tension is our rib cage. This is the best place to start. In most cases, we need to free our ribs, increase their mobility and free our breathing. So do lots of bending and twisting to get your ribs moving. Here are a couple of examples.



Next, work on the deep stabilizers of the shoulder (i.e., the rotator cuff) and make sure your shoulder blades move freely and function effectively.

Here are three great articles to check out for some exercise ideas:

When it comes to the neck, it may sound silly, but an easy fix occurs by working with your tongue. Move it in every direction possible and see if you can feel your front neck muscles working.

This is not an exhaustive list, but when you consider ribs, shoulders and neck, you’re taking an integrated approach and you’ll find you can really change patterns dramatically and help people feel much better.