Alleviate Shoulder Tension with These 10 Healthy Movement Habits to Help You Feel Great

by | Feb 22, 2017 | Functional Movement, Shoulder Pain | 0 comments

Alleviate Shoulder TensionAre you sick and tired of aggravating neck and shoulder pain, and ready to change your habits to help alleviate shoulder tension?

I’ve had the opportunity to help so many clients over the past 20+ years teaching Pilates who have walked thru my door complaining of neck and shoulder tension, stress, chronic pain, or rotator cuff injuries.  It’s amazing how quickly things can improve with a better understanding of posture, breathing, body alignment.  Then getting the right exercises into your weekly workout program to reinforce healthy new movement habits and alleviate shoulder tension is the ultimate way to keep the pain away.

It’s a 3-Step Process to get your brain and body in sync for better health.  We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s impossible to make corrections or improvements with our movement habits to alleviate shoulder tension if we don’t realize we need to change, or have never been shown a better way to stand, sit, breathe, or move.

Step 1: Your brain has to be able to send the right message to your muscles. Cognitively understanding what needs to happen is the first step. If you don’t even realize that there is something you’re doing with a daily habit, task, or exercise that is creating the pain, OR that there is actually something that you can do about it, how on earth can you ever fix it? Your brain is the master controller for the rest of your body.  Your body sends a message to the brain that there is pain…  The brain is then supposed to help the body fix it!  How often do you ignore the pain and just keep doing what you’re doing? (or try medicating & masking the pain with a pill – so you can ignore the problem and hope it will just go away?)

Step 2: Improve Your Body Awareness. Being able to find and feel things working differently in your own body is step 2.  It’s important to be able to notice when you’re doing things right or wrong so you have an opportunity to make adjustments for better health.  There is a level of trust that needs to be restored between your brain and body, to improve confidence that if there is a problem, you acknowledge it, and will take action to improve the situation.

Step 3: Practice Good Posture and Healthy Movement Habits.  By applying better body mechanics to every physical activity you do, you get to put your new-and-improved posture habits into practice to help re-train the right muscles to support healthy pain-free movement; reducing your risk of injury and ensuring that whatever activity you do it’s safe and effective to help you stay healthy.  This not only helps alleviate shoulder tension, but helps develop a well-balanced body to keep your whole-body healthy!

Even when we’re sitting still, doing nothing, it can be challenging to alleviate shoulder tension!  Just thinking about things that increase our stress level can effect the amount of neck and shoulder tension we’re holding onto.  Being cold and shivering will wrap your shoulders up around your ears quickly also, and you might not even realize why it’s happening.  Too much time in front of your computer, sitting in a recliner watching TV, or bending your head forward to text message on your phone all are daily life activities that may be contributing to neck and shoulder tension problems.

If you’re tired of complaining about neck and shoulder tension and ready to start paying attention to what you’re doing along with learning how to take better care of your body, there is something you can do about it.  Yes, getting a massage might help you enjoy some temporary relief, but for lasting results it’s time to take control of your body and be pro-active to improve how you stand, sit, and MOVE.

Here are 10 healthy movement habits you can start incorporating into your daily routine to help alleviate shoulder tension.

  1. Spend More Time Focusing on Strengthening Your Core! (Especially “low center” exercises) A lot of people spend all their ab work time yanking on their head with their hands and using the upper body and shoulders more than the guts to get a good sit-up accomplished. Learn how to find, feel, and use the lower quadrant of your mid-section to eliminate overuse of the hip flexors and eliminate neck/shoulder tension during sit-ups.
  2. Criss-Cross Ab Exercises are Most Important. You will get more good health benefits for core support to help reduce shoulder tension from criss-cross / twisting abdominal exercises than just doing straight roll up exercises.  But only if you’re twisting correctly by using your Obliques in the front, and spine rotators from the back in harmony.  (NOT pulling to twist with your Pecs and shoulders.) Check out the ecourse: 6-Dot Strategy for Effective Rotation of the Spine, to learn more to improve your twisting technique.
  3. Find and Use Your Lower Trapezius to Help Pull the Shoulder Blades DOWN. Shoulders up = Upper Traps overworking.  Shoulders pinched together = Mid Traps doing too much work.  Low Traps pulling down on a stable ribcage helps to lift and lengthen the upper back, and floats the neck and head up for better posture.  I cue this work as “Diamond Down” because the Trapezius muscle looks like a diamond.  Finding and using your “Diamond Down” correctly is a critical key for healthy shoulders and a concept that I teach in my Centerworks® Stress-Free Shoulders Awesome Workshop™.
  4. Incorporate Rotator Cuff Exercises into Your Weekly Workouts. Lots of folks hit the gym for strength training.  They focus on chest, back, biceps, triceps, might do overhead presses, or kettlebell swings, or handstand push-ups to work on shoulders…  but in my opinion, the most important shoulder exercise to focus on is proper Rotator Cuff movement (mobility & strength).  Rotator cuff exercises are best done in combination with Criss-Cross Ab work.  And P.S. A tiny 1, 2, or 3 pound weight is enough!
  5. Add simple Neck, Shoulder, Chest, and Upper Back Stretching Exercises to Your Day – Every Day! You don’t have to spend hours stretching.  Keep in mind, the better your breathing, posture, body alignment, and functional movement the more you’re reinforcing feeling great all day long.  Until your body is in perfect balance, and you can work and release the right muscle and joints to move with less stress, taking even 2-3 minutes a day to do just one or two different upper body stretching exercises can help.  My favorite Pilates exercise to work on improving shoulder mechanics and upper body mobility are with the Pilates Arc Barrel – you’ll find them in my book, “A Barrel of Fun.”  And there are lots of easy exercises you can do to stretch throughout the day that require zero extra equipment, just a little bit of time and effort to take care of your bod.
  6. BREATHE, and Learn How to Breathe Better! Deep, full, Pilates-posterio-lateral inhales will help you fill your lungs and lengthen the spine.  To empty your lungs and relax your neck and shoulders a long, strong exhale is helpful.  When this happens on every breath – whatever tension snuck in on the lift, is relaxed and released on the exhale.  If you’re not efficient with the mechanics of healthy breathing habits, you might be increasing neck and shoulder tension with every breath.
  7. Stop Over-Gripping with Your Pecs. Tight overworked chest muscles pull your upper back out of alignment, creating that slumped/humped upper back and forward head posture.  Sadly almost everything we do is in front of us, and if your low center is weak, your chest, arms, and shoulders are overworking.  Dominant, strong, tight pecs that always jump in to take over, are as detrimental to your upper body health as tight over-gripped hip flexors contribute to lower back and hip pain.
  8. Avoid having your Lats on Lockdown. Think you’re working on “Diamond Down?”  If you’re squeezing your arms tightly to your sides, your Lats are on lockdown, and your diamond probably isn’t working…  There’s a good chance that your shoulders are hiking up as your gluing your arms to your sides, and it’s putting the whole upper torso on lockdown.  The result of this bad habit… Your neck and lower back will over work, and try to do all the work instead.  Which means a greater risk of low back pain, neck / shoulder pain, and a whole lot of unnecessary shoulder tension.
  9. Figure out how to start using your Serratus. Your serratus muscle isn’t one that gets talked about much, but it’s a big player to support breathing, posture, and better blade placement for efficient upper body mechanics.  Regardless of the exercise… whether you’re swinging your arms on a stable ribcage, or swinging your ribcage through a stable arm – your serratus muscles need to know how to participate.
  10. Let your Arms Hang. Sounds simple, but it might be more challenging than you think.  For many of us, we’re so used to holding our arms up, and hiking the shoulders up around the ears, that we never fully relax the arms and let them hang.  When you hold/hike them up the front of the shoulder and pec are in an over-holding pattern.  Ultimately the arms should hang with a little drop of the upper arm bone to a backward/downward diagonal (without pinching the shoulder blades together, or pooching the abdominals out.)  This tiny drop to let the arms hang, releases shoulder tension and creates more “space” for the arm to swing freely from the shoulder.

Posture, breathing, low center support, diamond down, and then good arm and shoulder mechanics are vital to alleviate shoulder tension (regardless of the weather!)  If it’s cold and you’re spending more time shivering, you’re creating more neck and shoulder tension.  If you’re stuck in front of a computer for 8+ hours a day at work, or have other daily habits that have your shoulders hiked up around your ears – start working on eliminating this bad posture habit by spending a little extra time focusing on the 10 healthy movement habits listed about to alleviate shoulder tension and help you feel great all day long.

Learn to listen to your body.  Take the time to: a) warm up / bundle up.  b) start noticing what you’re doing and learn to support your body in a healthier way.  c) unwind the extra tension you’ve created: practice better posture habits, breathe with intent to fill the entire rib cage while lifting and lengthening the spine, and strive to reinforce good shoulder mechanics with every exercise, athletic endeavor, and daily life activity you do.

Your neck and shoulders will appreciate your attention to detail.  By doing what you can to reinforce these 10 healthy movement habits you can begin to alleviate shoulder tension and enjoy a happier, healthier, stress-free life.


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ALL 10 of the training tips in this article can be put into practice during a quick at-home Pulse-Power 10 minute workout.  Download your copy of the Pulse-Power Daily Dozen ebook NOW!

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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