Constant Neck Tension? Shrugging your shoulders may actually help.

Constant neck tension? Shrugging your shoulders may actually help.

We have heard it before: pull your shoulders down and back for the best posture. For some people, however, especially those with “sloped” shoulders, this can aggravate neck tension and may even cause tingling down into the arms.

How can you tell if you have sloped shoulders?

Look in the mirror. Do you have a relatively long neck? Do your collar bones slope downward as they go out to the shoulders? Do you find yourself wishing for shoulder pads to square your shoulders?

Shoulder Position

Do you develop tension in the back and sides of your neck after carrying heavy things with your arms down by your sides?

If any of these symptoms sound familiar, stop pulling your shoulder blades down your back! You will need to do the opposite. Pull your shoulders up by your ears. Does that feel better to your neck?

Let’s figure out why…

In sloped shoulders, the levator scapulae muscles are held in a shortened position, pulling the medial portion of the shoulder blade up toward the neck.

Levator Scapulae
Levator scapulae image — Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the upper trapezius muscles, which attach further out at the shoulder, are too long, letting the shoulders droop downward.

In sitting, you may give yourself some relief of neck tension by just supporting your arms with a pillow so they don’t hang down.

Apply this to your yoga practice

Allow your shoulders to shrug a little as you raise your arms above your head. After doing this several times, there should be less tension in the sides of the neck.

Why? If you have sloped shoulders, there are two reasons:

  1. the levator scapulae lengthen as the shoulder blades move into upward rotation
  2. the upper traps are allowed to shorten a little as you shrug, helping to support the shoulder girdle in a better position

If this works for you, try the same modification in any pose where the arms are above the head, including warriors and downward facing dog.

Learn more about shoulder posture.


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