Overview of the Ideas To Fix My Neck and Shoulder

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I’m sorry this post has taken so long. When I asked for ideas to Help me Fix My Neck and Shoulders, I got way more feedback than I ever expected. To say I was overwhelmed would be understatement. I actually got more ideas than I could ever implement. The more I started exploring these ideas and their criticisms, the more confused I got. Below is a list of the ideas I received from the comments broken down into groups.

Before I list out the ideas, I think I may have asked the wrong the question. It isn’t just about fixing the problem, but identifying what causes it and what could have prevented it. I still don’t know why my neck and shoulders are tight. I can assume it is because I work at a desk, but others that work at a desk don’t experience the same level of tightness. The correct way to solve this problem is to isolate cause first, which is something I haven’t figured out. To date, I have just dived head first into finding the cure and it has gotten me no where.

Mobility

  1. Mobility Exercises (such as the 3 Minutes routine)
  2. Perform ball massage. (Mobility WOD)
  3. Yoga

Although I feel good when I do mobility work, it hasn’t done anything to relieve tightness. I experimented with some exercises on the Mobility WOD website and although I could feel what he was talking about, they did nothing for the tightness. By the way, does anyone else get dizzy watching his videos? He needs a tripod badly.

Mind

  1. Mind Body 

Could the back pain I cured via Dr. Sarno have moved north to my neck and shoulders? Did I trade pain for stiffness? Is this mind body? Beats me. My hunch is that it isn’t, but I’m not sure.

Lifestyle, Gadgets

  1. Use no pillow.
  2. Sleep on the floor.
  3. Type of chair, chair settings
  4. Theracane
  5. Yoga needles on a rubber pad

I have not tried #1 or #2 yet. As for #3, I do need to reupholster my computer chair, but I have no clue how to do it. Maybe I’ll just buy a new chair. Seems wasteful though. I liked the Theracane, but found it too addicting and it didn’t have any long term benefits. I also went to a store and tried all the different Yoga needle mats and pillows. Couldn’t feel anything, so I didn’t buy one.

This Way

Photo by Lori Greig

Dietary

  1. Foods that are inflammatory. 
  2. Caffeine?

I have yet to find a food that triggers inflammation. Doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist, just means I haven’t found it. I could start by doing a nightshade elimination diet, which many people with pain have found helpful.

The book Trigger Point Therapy for Headaches and Migraines: Your Self -Treatment Workbook for Pain Relief by Valerie DeLaune said this about caffeine:

Caffeine causes a persistent contracture of muscle fibers (sometimes referred to as “caffeine rigor”) and increases muscle tension and trigger point irritability…

Other than that book and some PubMed references to frogs, I couldn’t additional information about “caffeine rigor”. Is it real? I will be doing a longer caffeine detox later this year, so in a way I will be testing this idea out. However, I have no clue how long one needs to be off caffeine to rid themselves of “caffeine rigor”, assuming it even exists.

Strength

  1. Nautilus based neck strengthening exercises
  2. Shrugs
  3. Home neck exercises?

This was actually the most interesting idea in the comment thread. Instead of avoiding load bearing exercises, one would use them to make the region stronger. So far the only neck exercises I’ve been aware are more static stretches, which I do regularly, but haven’t helped. I’m going to start some light isometric neck exercises.

Professionals

  1. Trigger Point Therapy
  2. Rolfing
  3. CranioSacral Therapy
  4. Massage
  5. Chiropractor
  6. Active Release Therapy
  7. Nautilus Strength
  8. Feldenkrais Method
  9. Alexander Technique

As I’ve stated many times on this blog, my track record with health professionals has been abysmal. They bleed my money and I feel better in the short run, but they never fix anything. I’ve been addicted to the endorphin release of both massage and chiropractic services. It is expensive and frustrating. This is why I want to take a DIY approach to solving this riddle. If I have to go to a health professional, it is because they are teaching me something that I can’t learn on my own. With that said, I will be taking a class on the Feldenkrais Method, because I found the library books on the topic to be bewildering.

Since December

Since my Help Me post, I have continued doing neck mobility and the 3 Minutes routine. I have also experimented with the ball massage, foam rollers and spent a few weeks attempting to do Trigger Point Therapy. None of has helped. In fact, I think the Trigger Point work made things worse, which I covered in the post Kefir, Caffeine and Trigger point Therapy. I have also resumed doing shoulder presses at the gym. I falsely associated that movement with tight shoulders. It appears to be innocent.

My plan now is to learn about Feldenkrais, continue the 3 Minutes routine, do some isometric neck exercises and fix my chair. Then I’ll attempt to take a nap on the floor at first – with and without a pillow. That should be a good start. I’ll also prepare a nightshade elimination test along with exploring a low inflammation diet, although I don’t think that is the cause. The “caffeine rigor” thing is puzzling to me as are the roots of the tightness.

19 thoughts on “Overview of the Ideas To Fix My Neck and Shoulder

  1. I just finished reading Sarno, so I’m surprised you shrugged it off this time, but it’s your neck and shoulders so how would I know?

    I’ve started doing brainwave entrainment (SBaGen), and it’s said to bring up repressed issues. I don’t know if it is or not, since I have so much going on already, but boy do I have a lot of rage to deal with (that are definitely related to physical issues I’m dealing with right now). Having a purely physical or primarily physical problem would be so much easier, but I don’t have that luck.

    I sympathise with your confusion. I’ve been struggling with a lot of confusion lately, too, over different issues.

  2. I had a similar post asking for recs
    http://huntgatherlove.com/content/its-all-connected-posture-pain-genetics-nsaids-and-stomach-problems

    And so far the tension and pain is gone. But I don’t know what it was that I did. I did start seeing a physical therapist who had me do a bunch of strength training, I also did some Egoscue exercises and tried to follow the Gokhale book more strictly. Actually the exercises the physical therapist had me doing were really similar to the ones in the Gokhale appendix. I finished part of the Mary Bond book I bought. I do know that foam rolling did nothing, as did the message balls. But there are a bunch of lifestyle changes that also occurred in this period of time. I bought a nice new firm mattress off Amazon Prime. I also started singing (I do classical and ragtime jazz) again and playing music which probably releases tension and exercises the diaphragm and whatnot. I bet dance would have a similar effect. Overall though I need to keep at it because my posture still is kind of weak and it degrades pretty badly if I sit- so I’m going to focus on trying to maintain it for the sake of my neck and voice.

  3. Txomin

    I think you always associate neck/shoulder pain with tightness. This is meaningful as you could experience pain even if your muscles were relaxed. But you don’t. When you experience pain, it is always associated to tightness (I think, I could be wrong). If this is so, it seems your muscles are protesting whenever the exertion becomes too long. They are tired, they want a break. In other words, there might be nothing wrong with them. They could just be overworked for whatever reason.

    Do you work at home or at an office?

  4. @Anemone – Great question. I guess the reason I don’t suspect the neck/shoulders issue is mind-body related is because the tightness is not distracting. The back pain was absolutely distracting. It kept my mind from dealing with stressful situations. The tightness does command near the respect, so it doesn’t distract, which makes me think it is different than the Sarno type back pain.

    @Melissa – I too like some of the Egoscue exercises. The Gokhale book made me neurotic about posture and ended up focusing on more pain. So I stopped it. Good point about the dancing. Something I won’t do, but the varied movement probably does release total body tension. I doubt my downstairs neighbor would want me me to start singing. 🙂

    @Txomin – I work at home. It is very possible they are overworked. I notice the tightness most when I am driving, especially when I parallel park. Also if I step of a curb without paying attention, I can feel a shock of pain for a split second in my neck.

    @Glenn – Perfect timing. I am heading to the supplement store today. I will absolutely start MSM. I stopped the rowing, because it was too hard on my neck, but I was doing it like that video you shared with me. It was anything but gentle. So, I will return to the rower for 10 minutes of gentle rowing. Thanks for the 2 ideas.

  5. Nicolas

    Do you still expose yourself to cold temperatures?

    The only time I’ve had problems with my neck was when I would use cold packs on my upper back at night during really hot summer nights.

  6. Txomin

    I had gotten around stress problems (both physical and psychological) related to intense work by lying down 10 minutes every hour. At first it seemed pointless as I continued stressing, thinking over what I have just been doing, planning what I was about to do, counting down the time left “relaxing”, etc. But within a couple of weeks, the benefits became clear. I can now focus my mind better and my body allows me to be more productive. As a bonus, I no longer twist in pain during (most) nights, constantly moving while I look for a comfortable position for my aching arms, shoulders, and sometimes legs.

    My procedure is as follows. I have the computer chime on the hour and, when it does, I drop everything, mid-sentence if need be. I set an egg timer to 10 minutes and forget about the time. I then lay down and close my eyes. I focus on the moment by controlling my breathing. The relaxation is so deep that sometimes I even nap a little (I cannot meditate so I don’t try).

    I should say that I tried to exercise/stretch/medicate. Medication worked while… medicated and it took two years to get beyond the accumulated fatigue. So, I was better off but without the meds I was again in trouble. The side-effects eventually discouraged me. Weightlifting worked better since stronger muscles allowed me to strain my body and mind further. However, and naturally, increasing demands eventually caught up and the problem resurfaced. I finally changed wears when I came across the notion that true concentration cannot be maintained for longer than some 20 minutes. I tested this and found it to be only partially true. I could concentrate longer, yes, but the physical/psychological cost increased exponentially. Perhaps counterintuitively, by adopting this strategy of short rests I now accomplish more over a day than before even when the breaks seem to disrupt local progress.

    Hope it helps.

  7. Jim

    MAS,
    I have neck and shoulder tightness that goes away when I’m away from the PC keyboard for three days, so I know it’s related to working at my computer. Being a techie, I don’t know if you ever get away from the machine for three days, but it would be a good experiment. Now I use a tablet for browsing, and the PC only for work related stuff.

  8. @Txomin – I really like that idea. It intersects with a few suggestion I got from others. I’m going to implement my own variation starting today.

    @Jim – It has been over a year since I’ve taken off a single day, let alone 3 days. I need some time off.

  9. Denney

    MAS,
    I stumbled across your blog when I was looking for new info on tyramine and migraines. For me the two are definitley linked so I avoid aged foods, you know anything that thing that tastes good like chocolate, beer, wine, hard cheeses, soy sauce, fish sauce etc. : (

    I am also celiac and I have read that it seems celiacs have higher rates of migraines. :((

    I also am having tightness in my neck and shoulders for about a year now and came across this web site today so I am going to give it a try. Link below
    It has to do with how one breathes.

    Good luck!

    http://www.integrativephysicaltherapyservices.com/chronic-neck-and-shoulder-tightness-check-your-breathing.

  10. @Denney- I do notice my breathing gets shallow often. Thanks for the link.

    I did a tyramine test last year and it turned up nothing.

  11. Hi Michael, I came across your first post just today as it contained a link to the neck exercises from our physiotherapy practice we posted on our website http://lifestylephysio.com.au/neck-exercises/, and was interested to read your story and everyones input. The variety of responses goes to show how multifactorial neck pain and pain in general can be!

    I’m a physiotherapist from Australia, and the issue you described is actually something that we see alot of! Obviously without being able to see and assess your neck professionally, I can only offer a general opinion, and hopefully it may be of some help…

    Your neck (and every joint in the body for that matter) need a combination of mobility and stability to function correctly and pain free. From the sound of things your mobility is very good. However, the comments you make about discomfort when moving quickly, jumping, sprinting etc, indicate to me that your neck may not have enough stability to support the joints adequately. (so when you move quickly there is too much movement in the neck causing some pain). The same is true of a feeling of tightness caused by a lack of muscle stability, but more on this in a second…

    The best way for you to improve your neck’s stability is through strengthening exercises, and from your posts – that seems to be the direction you are heading in. I would highly recommmend strengthening the muscles that stabilise and support your neck, such as the deep neck flexors. Isometric exercises may be a good place to start, but most likely you will need to do some specific functional exercises to strengthen your muscles in the way that you will be using them in real life. Likewise, the exercises should be done at an appropriate resistance/sets/reps to cause muscle adaptations without aggravating pain (a good physical therapist should be able to show you these).

    In my experience of treating people with neck pain – mobility and flexibility are important and certainly provide short term relief of tightness – but the best long term solution is to strengthen the muscles that support the neck. Keep in mind, like any strength program it will probably take several weeks before you start to notice a significant difference, as it takes time for the muscles to adapt.

    As for your question regarding why your neck feels “tight” – Feelings of tightness may come from proprioceptors and golgi tendon organs within the muscles (put simply, these are receptors that give your brain and body information about the length and position and level of tension in a muscle.) If your muscles are constantly in a state of slight tension (because they are desperately trying to stabilise the neck, but not having the natural strength to do so efficiently) it is likely this will be felt as tightness or discomfort. This can be caused by either the muscles being too weak to efficiently stabilise the neck, or by the wrong muscles are trying to stabilise the neck.

    Importantly though, every individual is a little different – I understand you have had some poor experiences with health professionals- but if you could get a good recommendation of a good physical therapist who works specifically with neck pain in your area, they should be able to assess your situation thoroughly and give you a good individual strength program that you can do at home….

    Hope you find a good long term solution!
    All the best,
    Stuart Turner

  12. @Stuart – Thank you for your feedback. Do you have any suggestions for neck strengthening exercises I can do from home? Any links would be helpful. So far the only things I’ve found are the mobility moves (like on your site) or Nautilus gym equipment, which is too costly.

  13. Brian Haviland

    Hi Michael,
    I have been fighting the neck pain battle for at least 20 years. I also work at the computer a lot and I know that’s a factor. A few things that I think have helped me some of which you may know. The average monitor height should be at eye level (I use 6 monitors which is why I say average). The combination of screen distance and resolution should be such that you are not wanting to lean forward to see more clearly — I think a big issue for me is when my “bowling ball weight” head is too forward which does not allow for proper force vectors in terms of the bones of the spine and neck supporting the weight of the head which then forces the less effective back up plan to come into play — namely that the head must be supported by the muscles of the neck and shoulders forcing them into a state of chronic tension and fatigue. Two other ways of addressing this — if you wear glasses then get a special pair of computer glasses designed to focus your eyes at your monitor distance (for me this is 29″); your optometrist should be able to test for this. Secondly I have attached a flexible piece of lattice to my high back ergonomic chair — this arches over my head and tickles my forehead if I move forward so that I have a constant reminder to sit up and not lean forward. The keyboard and mouse should be set so that you do not need to reach up or forward. I set up a support for my main keyboard so that it hovers just over my legs and the mouse pad is mounted on the arm of my chair. I use software to allow my two computers to be controlled by a single wireless mouse and keyboard. Last touch I put oversize letters and a USB powered light on the keyboard to make it easy to see. I can send you pictures of any of this if you are interested. The periodic break mentioned in a post above is something I’m sure is good although I’m very stubborn in resisting it (“Just let me finish this!” LOL) . Yoga is very good. Mixed results for me from chiro/physical therapy — massage once a week seems helpful. I can post further info regarding various massage and traction gadgets that I use that are helpful at times. It is an ongoing struggle so I will be interested to follow your progress.

  14. Brian Haviland

    P.S. On a more fun topic check out this yummy coffee which is potentially more healthy than what is generally available “upgraded-coffees”

  15. Brian Haviland

    Wow how cool is your other thread on coffee! We’ve been drinking the upgraded coffee but like it without the bulletproof additives (just tastewise no opinion on the health aspect) so we’re with you in the “Receive the Glory of the Pure Taste” Church.

  16. Bill

    Wanted to mention a similar problem with my upper traps muscles. Found was overworking them from exercise, work related position, and indirectly using them in so many unnoticed ways previously.

    Perhaps it is an over use issue in part.

    Best to you and hope can find the cause to cure !!

    Bill

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