Which muscle's giving me pain?
October 20, 2011 8:19 PM   Subscribe

Which of my muscles is hurting and what can I do about it?

I'm pretty sure it was caused by

a) Vigorously whipping my head back and forth after showering to shake the water out of my hair (like a dog... or Willow Smith),

b) Always carrying my tote bag on my right shoulder (often with a heavy-ish laptop in it),


c) Going overboard with the neck-cracking and finally stretching something.

Now a muscle or something where my neck/back/shoulder meet is hurting whenever I tilt or rotate my head (it's easier to look right than left, but if I go far enough in either direction, it hurts). It's not excruciating, but it's definitely enough for me to not want to move my head much.

So, which muscles are involved in head-whipping, tote-bagging, and neck-cracking? And is there any kind of stretch or self-massage I can do to make moving my head less unpleasant?
posted by desertface to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what muscle it is, but I've had something similar since high school. It comes and goes, and often pops up at the most inopportune times. The only sure-fire, never-fail method to get rid of it is swimming.
posted by notsnot at 8:24 PM on October 20, 2011

could be your rhomboids or your traps. the traps run all the way up into the back of your neck. i would bet fifty bucks it's from carrying the tote. totes and backpacks are super, super bad for your upper back - seriously consider getting a rollie-case - no joke. you might want to consider heading to a pt for this - this is the kind of shit they really excel at. you probably could use some strengthening of the whole upper back/rotator cuff setup.
posted by facetious at 8:38 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a Thing like this sometimes. It's been known to flare up when, in bed, I try to toss hair from under me, and once back when I had long hair, when I was roughly brushing out a knot. OW. An evening of heating pad helps, but it goes away in a day or two regardless.
posted by Occula at 9:16 PM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: Hi, RN/massage therapist here! I agree with facetious - sounds like your trapezius (the most superficial muscle of your upper back/shoulders), and maybe your scalenes (the deeper neck muscles responsible for sideways and tilting movements).

If this is a persistent problem, I second seeing a PT, and do that before trying anything yourself - you want him or her to assess the affected area at its worst and go from there. However, if this just happens every so often, below are some moves that may provide temporary relief.

Using your opposite hand, bunch your fingers together tightly and allow them to curve naturally, then press into the affected area using a circular motion. You might feel some crunching or bumps in spots where the muscle has tightened up - those are knots, and they might be contributing to the pain/discomfort. If you can comfortably reach those points, use your pointer and middle fingers to hold pressure on them for 5 seconds or so to help release the tension, then follow up with another quick circular motion.

Another massage technique you might want to try is stripping the muscle, which can be a little uncomfortable but is really effective at "untwisting" the muscle fibers. Using the bunched-fingers position, press firmly behind your neck and on the upper shoulder, and maintaining that pressure, move your hand toward your right shoulder.

One more tension-relieving move is reaching back into the muscle with the fingers of your affected side, then pulling forward while applying deep pressure (almost like a raking motion). I think this move is the most effective of the three, but definitely do the circular motion and stripping before this because you want to build up to the heavier pressure.

Hope this helps!
posted by constellations at 9:39 PM on October 20, 2011 [11 favorites]

Try sitting cross-legged, back straight, resting both arms loose at your sides. Imagine looking down at the top of your head as if it is a clock and your forehead is 12, and put your right hand at about 7 and then let the weight of your hand/arm pull your head forward and to the right, gently, stretching the left side of your neck and all those attached muscles. Repeat on the other side. It's a really good stretch you can do yourself for all those neck/shoulder muscles. (I carry all my tension in my neck and upper back.) The weight of the arm makes a big difference in stretching out the muscle. The hand of the arm you aren't using should rest gently on the floor. Try to keep your shoulders low and loose.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:50 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

When that happens to me I find the most concentrated point of tension and there's usually a big crunchy knot. I lie down with a tennis ball under the spot and kind of roll around slightly so it massages the area. It hurts like hell but it's relieving and I feel like it's effective. Also I like salonpas for quick temporary relief on the back of the neck.
posted by ad4pt at 12:06 AM on October 21, 2011

Best answer: Agree with facetious and constellations that its probably your traps. If you really want to massage pick up a lacrosse ball (solid rubber ball) and squatting with your back against a wall, drop the ball between your sore muscle and the wall. Hurts a bit at first, but the pain will subside and you will force the muscle to relax.
posted by up in the old hotel at 7:21 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Massage therapist here also. Traps or Scalenes for sure may be cause. Also levator scapulae can be the cause and would be my first guess given your post details. For this muscle, just google levator scapulae exercises and you'll find a ton of useful stuff. For scalenes the best I know is to bring, say, your left ear to your left shoulder. Your left eye will then be lower than your right eye. Imagine a line drawn between them and going up towards the ceiling. Slowly turn your head so that your right eye moves up along that imaginary line so you are looking up towards the ceiling with the corner of the right eye, all the time the left eye will be lower, as at the beginning and you will not tilt the head backwards or forwards, just rotate it. Hold for five seconds. then relax the head, then repeat. Then do the same with the other side - even if pain is on one side only, do both for all exercises, always. You will know if you are doing this exercise correctly by the pain signal - when starting with the left ear to left shoulder and turning head so right eye is looking up towards ceiling, there will be mild pain on right side of neck - do not do anything to cause strong pain.
posted by nickji at 12:28 PM on October 22, 2011

« Older Bupropion vs Adderall   |   Deliberately or otherwise, this person is lying... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.