By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
Hey, you there. Yeah, you, hunched over your computer reading this article. Sit up straight. Stretch. Walk around a little. You’re probably holding a lot of stress in those shoulder muscles, without even realizing it.
And the more stress you hold, the more you are at a risk of your shoulders creeping up and up, closer and closer to your ears. Maybe you’ve seen people—old people, even young people—who already have this issue. The saying “If you keep making that face, it’ll freeze that way” that American parents love to say, also applies to shoulders.
Over time, if you have bad posture, the muscles will atrophy that way.
When we are in emotional distress, it tends to go to our shoulders. But there are many other little causes. Living in a cold place can cause you to tense up in reaction to the environment.
Long hours at a computer can also be a key cause, due to poor ergonomics. Your wrists aren’t supported, and if the computer isn’t at eye level, you hunch down to be closer to it.
When you hold a phone next to your ear between your shoulders instead of holding it to your ear with your hands, or carry a heavy purse or backpack, it can also be detrimental.
In short, modern life causes tension. But there are many natural, simple ways you can reduce the tension and keep your ears and your shoulders apart.
There are a few simple stretches that you can do at work or at home.
One that you can do just sitting at your desk, recommended by physical therapist Chad Elms, is called shoulder blade squeezes.
Bringing your shoulder blades closer together forces you to drop your shoulders. The idea is to simply bring your shoulder blades together for ten seconds at a time, several times a day.
You can also stand up and elongate. Bring your arms straight over your head, and interlace your fingers with the palms facing towards the ceiling.
If you are interested in doing more poses to stretch and strengthen your back, you can look to yoga. But these are two that are easy to do, and it will help if you do them periodically throughout the day.
Similar to stretching, you can of course, go to a professional to get it done. But if you know a few simple massage techniques, it will make daily life easier.
The main muscle that tenses in your shoulders is called the trapezius muscle, located between the base of your skull and your shoulder blades. If you lie down and simply give a quick massage to that area, it will help.
It is better to do it lying down than standing because the rest of your body can relax. Make sure that your spine and neck are aligned, so as not to put on any extra pressure.
You can put a pillow under your back. Another exercise to do lying down is the same massage, but with a tennis ball instead of your hands. You can roll it around the tense spots in your trapezius muscle.
3. Get Strong
If your trapezius muscle is strong, you'll be less likely to hunch up your shoulders, or put them forward in an uncomfortable position. There are a couple easy daily exercises you can do.
The first one is like making a snow angel, only on the wall. Hence the name: "Wall angel."
Stand against the wall, with your feet shoulder-length apart, arms reached out to the side, with your elbow at a 90-degree angle to your body and palms forward.
Keeping your body firmly against the wall, slide your arms straight up over your head. Repeat this motion several times. You can start out doing it 10 times, and then work up to two sets of 15.
The second exercise is designed to work out the entire back, especially the lower back.
If your lower back is stronger, your shoulders are less likely to fall forward and become tense. This exercise, the spinal extensor, helps align and strengthen your spine.
Lie down, with your stomach on the floor, your palms flat out on the floor, your legs stretched out, and your toes pointed.
Then, squeeze your shoulder blades together and press them away from your ears. Extend your spine, lifting your chest, arms, and hands off the floor.
Keep your palms away from your body, but your feet on the ground. Gradually lower to the start position and repeat. Start with one set of 15, and go to 2.
4. Take a Bath with Epsom Salts
Maybe you just want a quick-fix, relaxing relief to the tension in your shoulders. A hot bath will most certainly help, and even more so if you put Epsom salt in it. It contains magnesium sulfate, which relaxes the muscles as well as improves blood circulation. Put 2 cups of Epsom salts in a bath with warm water, and soak your tense body for at least 25 minutes. Breathe.
5. Take Some Turmeric
Some what? It's a dark yellow, powdery spice that you can probably find at the grocery store or at your local spice shop. It is also sometimes known as curcuma.
In a 2015 study by Dr. S. Mahdizaden S of the University of Munster, Germany, tumeric was shown to be anti-inflammatory and analgesic (a pain reducer).
If your shoulders hurt, you can use turmeric in various ways.
You can use two tablespoons of turmeric powder and one or more tablespoons of coconut oil, and mix it into a paste to massage onto your back.
You can take a teaspoon of turmeric powder, and add it to one cup of milk. If you have a sweet tooth, you can add a little bit of honey. Drink that two times per day.
You also have the option of taking turmeric pills, 250 to 500 milligrams, three times daily. Spice it up, but don't forget your exercises and stretching.
6. Prop Yourself Up
We’ve looked at holistic ways to get to the root of those tense, risen shoulders, but sometimes you just need a quick fix.
Regardless of our profession, many of us spend a fair amount of time sitting down, at a computer, or both. There are ways to sit and use the computer that prop us up and drop our shoulders.
For example, if you are a person with bad posture sitting, your lower back will probably jut out and your shoulders will probably hunch forward.
If you put a pillow between the small of your back and the chair, it will cause the spine to straighten a little, and consequentially, the shoulders to go back.
Another way to avoid hunching over your computer is to elevate it. You can simply put books under it or set it on an elevated surface.
7. Emotionally Align
Regardless of how disciplined you are in taking care of your body, if you have a high degree of stress or anxiety, you may tense up, even as you stand up straight and walk down the street, light as a feather.
The body affects the mind, and the mind also affects the body.
In a 1996 study by Vasseljen O. Jr. at the University of Trondheim, they tested 15 pairs of women in manual labor conditions and 24 in office jobs. They had general tension in common, a symptom most closely correlated with psychosocial and psychological factors. This pain cannot be measured directly through increased muscle activity, but may still be present.
Make sure you observe what is causing you stress, and make an effort to reduce it: through psychotherapy, meditation, exercise. Whatever method works best for you.