Hunching up your shoulders to brace against the cold weather can increase tension around the neck, upper back and shoulder area – somewhere most of us already feel tight at the best of times! But short of moving somewhere with a more agreeable year-round climate, what can you do about it?
With winter well and truly upon us, I bet all of us at one point or another have found ourselves popping out to the shop or jumping on the tube only to notice our shoulders hunched up around our ears, trying desperately to brace against the cold weather (and the wind and the rain…).
Whilst this is a natural response to the cold weather, it can increase tension around the neck and shoulders – somewhere most of us already tend to feel tight at the best of times! This increased tension can lead to postural issues, associated back/ neck/ shoulder pain, and tension headaches.
Short of moving somewhere with a more agreeable year-round climate (I mean, it is tempting at this point, right?), what can you do about it?
1. Preventative measures:
It is well known that the best offence is a good defence. Quite simply, this means staying warm and paying attention to your posture. My top tips are to
a) Wear a good scarf – the bigger and snugglier the better, in my opinion!
b) Build a habit of checking in on your posture. Most of us know what good posture should look like, but most of us have bad habits and do not necessarily even notice when we slip into these. Therefore, training yourself to ‘check in’ throughout the day whilst you are going about your business is a great way to be more conscious and mindful of how you hold yourself. This is especially important for anyone whose work involves repetitive movements or is largely inactive. For example, if you spend most of your time sitting at a desk, try having an hourly check in – ideally, get up and stretch your legs if you can (even if its just to make a cup of tea!), then when you return to your desk roll your shoulders back, take a minute to mentally scan your body for any areas of tension, and consciously let these go.
Its worth keeping in mind though, that no-one has ‘perfect posture’, and that’s ok! This is not about forcing your body into an uncomfortable position in pursuit of a textbook ideal, because that will not be sustainable. Its about making little adjustments until they become habits and finding the best version of your posture.
Did you know that one of the main functions of skeletal muscle is temperature control? Muscles rapidly contract to produce heat, and therefore raise body temperature – more commonly known as shivering. Add to this raised and rounded shoulders trying to brace against the weather and your muscles are working overtime! No wonder you have aches and pains!
You are more likely to feel the tension in your neck and shoulders, but often tight pectorals (chest muscles) are also part of the equation. Most of us, myself included, tend to roll our shoulders inwards. This is because almost everything we do is forward facing – think sitting at a desk, working on a computer, picking up a child, cooking, writing… the list goes on! Therefore, it is not only likely that you are holding some level of tension in your pectorals, but that this is then putting excess stress on the postural muscles on the opposing side of your body – your upper back, shoulders and neck.
Elongate your poor tight muscles with some targeted stretches – the below sequence focuses on your chest, upper back, and neck. However, if any of these stretches cause you pain, stop them immediately and let one of the team here know – we can work with you to find an alternative exercise that works for you.
Standing chest stretch (pic 1):
Stand facing a wall with your arm extended to the side, bent at the elbow with your forearm at a right angle to the floor. Place your forearm against the wall and slowly turn your shoulders and body away. You should feel this stretch across the front of your chest.
Lateral neck stretch (pic 2):
Stand or sit in a neutral position. Slowly move your ear towards your shoulder whilst keeping your eyes facing forwards. If this is comfortable, you can try using your hand to gently increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side. You should feel this stretch along the side of your neck.
Beach ball back stretch (pic 3):
Stand with feet hip distance apart, your arms rounded out in front as though you’re hugging a giant beach ball. Bend at the knees and tuck your pelvis under. At the same time tuck chin to chest and round your spine. You should feel this stretch across your upper back and between your shoulder blades.
One of the most common complaints I see as a sports massage therapist is back, neck and shoulder pain. The way the human body is built and the kinds of activities we do in our daily lives causes most of us to hold tension in our back, neck and shoulders. If left untreated, this tension often becomes painful (which can be anything from a mild annoyance to debilitating), and the cold weather is likely to exacerbate this.
I may be slightly biased of course, but massage is excellent at releasing tension, and sports massage specifically aims at addressing postural imbalance and reducing pain.
Not only that, but as an added bonus, if you are heading off on a winter sports holiday this season (or even planning on hitting the gym hard post-Christmas excess!), a sports massage can help keep your muscles functioning optimally, reduce the risk of injury, and help you recover faster. What’s not to love!