Chronic Shoulder Tension

By Dr Guy Ashburner | June 4, 2018

Chronic Shoulder Tension

“When you have adjusted the physical to its normal demands nature supplies the remainder” Dr A T Still, Founder of Osteopathy. 1874

Chronic tension in the neck and shoulders is an extremely common complaint amongst many people, and the problem can have many underlying causes. The long and stressful hours people spend sitting at desks leave them with muscular discomfort that they carry out of the office like a weight on their shoulders. Because of the weight of your head and the neck’s high mobility, the neck and the shoulders are prone to tension and injury. Chronic muscle tension occurs when one or more muscles in the body remains overly contracted for a prolonged length of time. These muscle fibres become shortened, unable to relax and hypoxic (oxygen deprived) which means they are prone to fatigue more rapidly, as well as ache and pain quickly.

The shoulder girdle is a very complex area. The head weighs, about 5 and a half kilograms. For every couple of centimetres the head moves forward this weight increases and exaggerates the stress placed on your neck and shoulders. Subtle changes in posture or inappropriate exercise will effect muscle balance which can lead to some muscles (often upper trapezius and rhomboids) working too hard, with resultant “muscle tension”. The upper traps run from the tip of your shoulder to the base of your skull and also attaches to the back of the spine of the neck and the upper most thoracic spine. It forms the contour of your neck and shoulders. The ache and stiffness felt in the shoulders throughout the day is often the accumulation of many stiff and tired muscles compressing the joints between the upper ribs and vertebrae. Years of poor posture and inappropriate movement leaves our bodies with an accumulation of muscle contraction that gradually becomes quite painful. Muscles are entwined in layers of connective tissue (fascia). These layers of fascia allow the muscles and fascia to glide over each other. When fascial layers become bound together, that’s called an adhesion. When fascia sticks together it can make it difficult for muscles to move normally. This can cause a lot of issues beyond where the adhesion is, creating compensation patterns and potentially throwing off our posture and movement. Adhesions are also a cause of muscular pain in the body.

The spinal nerves of the neck and upper back can become irritated by stress or trauma which will lead to tightening of the trapezius and other neck muscles. A very important component to addressing trapezius muscle tension is in addressing the nervous system. Neck and shoulder tension and pain can often be associated with headaches, reduced a range of movement of the neck, a “crunching” sensation when turning your head and referred pain down your arms. Pain in one or both shoulders could also be caused by referred pain from elsewhere in the body. It is important to speak to a medical professional such as an osteopath about the symptoms you are experiencing, even if they only seem minor. Shoulder pain left untreated can cause more serious chronic problems later and start to affect your activities in everyday life. Osteopaths use the combination of medical knowledge and highly sensitive hands to manipulate, massage, stretch, and soften the chronic tight muscles that cause your pain. Once a diagnosis of the cause of your symptoms has been made, an appropriate course of treatment combined with postural and exercise advice can be commenced to treat the underlying issue. Osteopaths will use various soft-tissue and joint mobilization techniques to release tension. Osteopathic treatment seeks to address the true cause in order to provide pain relief that is longer lasting. Relief from shoulder tension can often be provided quickly and simply so there is no need to put up with chronic shoulder tension any longer.


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