If your neck and shoulders don’t feel great today, you are in good company - 80% of people report some degree of neck pain during their lifetimes, and 67% get shoulder discomfort at some stage. That’s a lot! Why is this so common?
Here is my take on things.
You might be surprised to hear that we commonly overuse our necks for breathing. We also tend not to have good shoulder function when lifting things. This leads to excess tension and risk of injury.
And also, our necks and shoulders can be directly (and negatively) impacted by our emotional state.
Let’s look at these areas in more detail.
Necks and breathing
Our main breathing muscle is our diaphragm. With poor posture and decreased mobility, our ribcages can be tense and the diaphragm gets really tight. Is yours?
Try this - lie on your back with the knees bent, and try gently curling your fingertips under the edge of the rib cage at the front of your body. Can you grip underneath a little bit, or does it feel unpleasant, ticklish, or just plain tense? This can be indicative of diaphragm tightness, and this goes together with restricted breathing.
Which also goes together with reduced capability of our cores to work beautifully.
Not so good.
But our body needs that breath capacity, and if our ribcage is not easily expanding, our necks come in to help. Necks have “accessory breathing muscles” - a fancy way of saying that some muscles in the neck help our breath. They literally pull the top ribs up to create a bit more breath capacity.
The trouble is, this process was designed as an emergency boost when our demand for extra breath is very high, such as running away from a predator. But if the neck does this habitually all day long and does not stop, we eventually get into trouble with constant tension through over-activation of these muscles.
Anyone heard of a group of muscles called "scalenes"? They are three little muscles in the side of the neck, forming a loose triangle shape. They tend to be really over-involved in habitual “neck breathing” but their primary function is side-bending and rotating of the neck. And they get dysfunctional, sore, tight, and restrict neck rotation as they can't continue doing all of their functions well.
People with asthma also tend to overuse these muscles quite a lot to get more breath in. That’s why people with asthma can have very unhappy necks.
I wish this was something taught at school, in PE lessons, but there is "a good way" - and "a not-so-good" way to lift our arms. A good way to lift our arms involves movement of the shoulder blade which needs to rotate in a certain way as the arm comes higher than shoulder height.
A strong set of muscles underpinning the shoulder blade will make the shoulder blade sit “snug” on the ribcage as we lift our arms - not wing out on our back.
Efficient lifting of our arms also does not involve shoulder elevation as the arm comes up. So the neck stays calm as the arm comes up.
And when raising both arms, we should not need to arch the back in a big way, or pop the head forwards - that’s compensation.
But we might not be aware of that, and acquire bad habits which can create changes to how efficient and happ our shoulders are. If the areas between the shoulder blades gets tight through strain, our shoulder blade might lose the natural ability to rotate and move well. Or, we might get knocked by an injury, and never reset our movement patterns back again. Hello, tightness of the shoulders that sets in and steals our beautiful range of movement.
But there is even more to it.
Emotions and upper body tension
Necks and shoulders can get impacted by the tension brought about by us experiencing lasting difficult emotions.
What are the typical patterns? Shallow, restrictred breathing as we tense up in anticipation of something bad happening, lifting the shoulders up because of stress, rounding the chest and shoulders in self-protection, making ourselves look smaller when we feel unhappy or need to defend ourselves… If this goes on for a period of time, this starts becoming our default posture.
And if it is just the physical ailments, I use tools such as Pilates Therapy, Restore Your Core training that I have had, Immaculate Dissection anatomy and rehabilitation techniques, and NeuroKinetic therapy to restore physical movement patterns with great effect.
I see many people whose posture has been affected by the difficulties in life that they have encountered. They have suffered personal challenges, and this is reflected in how they are physically, today. These changes did not come about immediately, but they cumulated one bit at a time.
And just working on physical changes is not always enough.
Every emotional trauma and long standing difficulty has a physical component. We just can’t separate the two.
In the same way that every injury will have an emotional component. It works both ways.
And this is why, when treating people, I always ask about their relevant life experiences. So that we can treat not just the physical problem, but address the underlying emotional components when needed.
Because if people feel under-confident, anxious and not secure, their breathing will keep getting shallow and restricted, backs rounded, and shoulders hunched. So physical work is just not enough to address that.
Mind-body connections at work, right here.
So, in addition to rapid emotional therapy through eye movements that I already practice, to further help with emotional challenges at a deep level, I am now training as a congnitive-behavioural hypnotherapist. I will be able to help people overcome long-standing emotional difficulties and anxieties to get them “unstuck”, help increase their confidence and reduce the impact of unwanted troubling memories.
To get an appointment, contact me on
To your health