We’ve got to work on our bodies to avoid aches and pains
This time it’s personal. The theme of this column is a proven way of ending neck pain and I have to admit to a vested interest. I have terrible posture. I hold all my tension in my shoulders. Years of hunching over a desk means that my shoulders practically touch my ears – and that’s when I’m relaxed. My muscles are in permanent spasm and hard as a brick. My shoulders hurt, the muscles feel knotted and I suffer from headaches which I am sure are related to constricted nerves and the tension spreading to my jaw.
But I’m not alone. This sort of neck pain is on the rise and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you suffer, too, especially if you spend a good proportion of time at a desk.
So hurrah for Denmark’s National Research Centre for the Working Environment, which a couple of months ago released the results of their study into what really helps people with tense shoulders.
They asked volunteers to exercise (cycling), or do exercises aimed at the trapezius muscles (the big ones in the upper back). Others were told not to change their behaviour.
The strength exercises below are what worked. Do them three times per week – the routine takes under five minutes – and like the volunteers in the study, your neck pain should be reduced by an enormous 80%. Keep knees slightly bent throughout and use dumbbells of 2-5 lbs (or bottles of water). You should repeat until your muscles are exhausted which should happen at some point between 8-12 repetitions. When the weight becomes easy, move onto a heavier one.
● Shrug. Hold your arms at the sides, holding weights and palms facing in. Keeping your arms straight, pull shoulders up to your ears, pause for a second and lower.
● Bend forward so your chest faces the floor, arms hanging down, palms facing inwards to each other holding weights. With elbows slightly bent, squeeze shoulder blades and raise arms to your sides, parallel to the floor. Hold in this position, pause and then lower.
● Stand with your palms in front of thighs and facing legs. Bend elbows to the sides and pull weights up to about collarbone level. Pause, then lower.
Elisabeth Wilson is a counsellor and psychotherapist and author of Stress Proof Your Life (Infinite Ideas, £12.99)