Have you ever noticed that your neck hurts when you use your arms and hands a lot? That’s a dead giveaway that your shoulders have forgotten where they should live most of the day. To be blunt, your shoulders shouldn’t be up by your ear lobes. If this position sounds like you, don’t beat yourself up too much though — you’re in good company! About 40% of my clients notice that they carry their body tension in their neck & shoulders, which means they’re likely to experience this same common tension pattern.
Read on for an easy neck and shoulder exercise you can do anytime to re-set your shoulders and release your neck.
WHAT MAKES YOUR NECK CRANKY
When your shoulder rises up by your earlobe, your neck muscles – for the anatomy geeks out there: upper trapezius, rhomboid minor and major, and levator scapulae — are working like crazy to hold that puppy up there. Here’s the thing: these muscles aren’t built to hold this workload all day. That’s why they get cranky when asked to do too much. Their real job is to allow you to reach up and grab something off an extra high shelf, not to hold the shoulder up all day.
Ideally, your shoulder girdle simply drapes over and balances on top of your ribcage. When your musculature is balanced, this happens effortlessly and arm movement originates from your torso, instead of your neck. Suddenly, your arms feel almost weightless. This is a very different feeling than shortening your neck muscles to heave your arm upward. Cool, huh?
DROPPING YOUR SHOULDERS TO FREE YOUR NECK
- With your hands on your head, shrug your shoulders up toward your ear lobes. Feel your shoulder blades moving up your back. If you stayed in this position, your neck would get cranky. So, don’t stay here!
- Make your armpits heavy and allow them to draw your shoulder blades down. I call this Creating an Anchor Point. Don’t grip, just turn on that muscle beneath your armpit, move the shoulder down and then release the muscle. For my fellow anatomy geeks: engage serratus anterior, the muscle below your arm pit, and gently pull down.
- Lower your arms down, turning your palms forward.
- Notice how your shoulders have repositioned themselves far from your ear lobes.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Say you were helping a small child get ready for a photograph and their coat was messed up. You’d likely grab the bottom edge and tug it down to straighten the coat.That’s an efficient way to reposition things.
Pushing your shoulders down will create neck tension. In the exercise above, you pulled your shoulder girdle down using the muscles around your armpit. This repositions your shoulder girdle just like the coat example. (And, just like the coat example, once your shoulders are positioned, stop pulling down.) It’s possible to move your shoulders by pushing them down, but that will always feel like a tension move, as if you’re bracing to keep your arm from lifting. Don’t do that. Use the more efficient method, and within a couple weeks, your body will choose this habit without your needing to think about it.