How do I relieve this pain in my shoulders?
January 14, 2008 12:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm having a pretty standard tight pain in my shoulders (most likely due to stress), kind of like my shoulders are stuck in the tensed up shrug position. Can the hivemind recommend some remedies? I found some exercise sites from past posts, but anything would be helpful.
posted by miasma to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I've determined that the muscle in question is the Trapezius.
posted by miasma at 12:55 PM on January 14, 2008

Heat forces muscles to relax.

You can buy or make one of those socklike things filled with rice or corn that you can heat up in the microwave then place on your shoulders. Another thing to do would be get in a hot bath and lay back with your shoulders in hot water, or get a small towel wet with hot water and apply.

Or, shoot, just blowdry your shoulders.

One other thing to try-google shoulder stretches. There are some particular ones that would target the trapezius muscle that would probably bring some relief.

(That's where my tension likes to go too, so I sympathize.)
posted by konolia at 12:55 PM on January 14, 2008

For similar tension, tightness between my shoulder blades, my doctor recommended laying flat on the ground on my back with arms extended outward, for fifteen minutes nightly before bed. He said this would help correct muscle memory. He also suggested topical arnica oil, an herb shown to soothe achy muscles. Regular exercise is the best remedy, even if it isn't directed at that area. Even just using an elliptical or riding my bike helps, but I bet yoga has a lot of following for fixing muscular tension problems.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:56 PM on January 14, 2008

Heat is what does it for me. If I'm tight, stretches can sometimes make it worse, like I'm overworking a tense muscle.

Those rice bag things are the best.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:59 PM on January 14, 2008

Owie, miasma. I get tense in exactly the same place. Yoga helps me, as do some of konolia's suggestions.

Another one that helps was taught to me by a physiotherapist. Sitting in a chair, relax your shoulders, and tilt your head straight back. Wiggle it back and forth a bit using just tiny movements, don't toss it around like a sack of potatoes. Then, relax your neck more and let your head hang further back.

That little move is actually designed to relieve pinched nerves in your shoulders that make your arms go numb (which is my problem), but man, it's great for relieving tension in your neck and shoulders.
posted by LN at 1:06 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Google this name: Dr. John Sarno. He focuses on back pain, but his method (I hate to call it a "method" because what he does is point out the reality of the problem) deals with all kinds of pain. Pain is a distraction. It is all in your head. But don't think I'm saying that your pain is not real.

Everything else you're being told to do is a placebo (a temporary "cure")- from accupunture to chiropractic. You name it.
posted by wfc123 at 1:07 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second Dr. Sarno. After years of debilitating back pain and lots of every kind of remedy you can imagine (including surgery), my mom was still in crazy day to day pain. She went to see Dr. Sarno, both to a couple of seminars and once as a patient and hasn't had back pain since. That was about 15 years ago. The book Mind Over Back Pain is a good start. Don't let the seeming flakiness of the title or "method" fool you. The man is onto something. It's also applicable to most of the common aches and pains that make people miserable like migraines, IBD, etc.
posted by sneakin at 1:24 PM on January 14, 2008

I get a similar pain, also due to stress, near my shoulderblades. The suggestion of heat is right on -- in that area, it might be easier to use something like the adhesive Thermacare patches (which I love so much I should probably buy stock in the company).

I also have a little nubbed rubber ball that's supposed to be for getting muscle knots out -- ideally I would get a massage, but they're expensive and Mr. Tigerbelly is not a big shoulder-rubber. Instead, I put the ball on the floor and lie down so it's beneath my shoulders. I then move about carefully until I find a spot that particularly twinges, and relax to rest as heavily as I can so that the ball really pushes into the spot. Warning: sometimes it can be fairly painful, or cause odd twinges down my arm where a nerve extends. After I feel the knot has been "pressed" as much as possible, I roll around a little bit on the ball to break up that remaining tension and disperse the knot. I learned this trick from a friend, who learned it from her chiropractor -- it usually takes the form of someone else pushing very hard on your knots to "break" them (I've been told the hard knots/lumps are actually calcium deposits in the muscle) and then rubbing it out, but the ball does the work nearly as well.

Massage can really help. However, in my experience, the only truly effective massage is one that really gets into the muscle and actually hurts a bit at the time. None of this spa-like superficial smooth strokes business. I've had some massages that definitely worked me, and afterwards is only time in my adult life I've ever truly felt my shoulders were relaxed. The way I felt then made me realize how much I take a certain level of muscle tension for granted, as the "normal" state -- when it really shouldn't be. For both short and long-term, I definitely recommend hunting around for a good masseuse who specializes in deep tissue massage.

You seem to be on this road already, but I also suggest engaging in physical therapy exercises geared towards your particular problem. This will not necessarily help the immediate pain, as the suggestions above may, but will help keep you from continually recreating this painful condition.
posted by tigerbelly at 1:36 PM on January 14, 2008

I disagree with wfc123's assertion that the given suggestions are "placebos", but I do agree that the pain being experienced is a symptom of something else. The original poster even suggests that stress is the cause. Until the underlying reason for the tension is addressed, the problem will keep coming back.

That being said, I had a persistent problem in my back/shoulder where I couldn't turn my head very far to one side. It just wouldn't go any farther (I could turn at least 45 degrees farther in the other direction). A visit to my local D.O. apparently fixed it for good. He did some kind of back-cracking adjustment to my upper spine (between the shoulder blades), and it was instant freedom from a constriction I'd had for a decade. YMMV of course.
posted by zephyrian at 1:48 PM on January 14, 2008

I somehow forgot that in addition to topical arnica oil, I used to take arnica sublingual supplements. They definitely take the edge off.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:52 PM on January 14, 2008

Going to an excellent Registered Massage Therapist, coupled with strengthening and paying attention to your posture, and yoga/stretching are, I find, excellent steps to take. My shoulders have improved tremendously.
posted by juiceCake at 1:54 PM on January 14, 2008

There is a pressure point on the top side of the trapezious right where it takes a turn up your neck. A strong direct pressure straight down at that point will often unlock the muscle for me. Once you've found it with your fingers a drum stick or other instrument with a rounded tip can be used to more directly focus the pressure.
posted by subtle_squid at 2:15 PM on January 14, 2008

Oooh, I would love to try to untangle your pain! Where abouts are you? :-)

Find a really good massage therapist in your area. He/She should be able to figure out what the root cause of the pain is (assuming it is muscular in origin), give you some immediate relief, and recommend some stretches and/or exercises to help prevent the problem in the future.
posted by browse at 2:27 PM on January 14, 2008

Try this: Lift your shoulders towards your ears as high as they can go fify times, at a rate of say once per second. It hurts more at first, but then it feels like a lot of extra blood is pumped through the muscle, and afterwards it's exhausted enough to actually relax. This works very well for me, as do hot baths and painkillers. Stretching when the pain is already there seems to do more harm than good.
posted by springload at 2:36 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I sleep on a heating pad when I have this problem. It forces me to sleep on my back which is good and the heat helps relax the muscles. I wake up in the morning feeling pretty damn good.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:41 PM on January 14, 2008

In addition to all these good suggestions, I would recommend making sure that you do stretches routinely during the day. I get the same thing, and it's helped a lot to set a timer on my computer and do shoulder stretches once an hour.
posted by bibbit at 6:05 PM on January 14, 2008

Alternate theory:
My chiropracter recommends ice for a muscle spasm rather than heat, which he claims can make it worse. You could try a little of each and see which works the best for you.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 9:18 AM on January 15, 2008

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