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Exercises to Avoid With Neck and Shoulder Pain

By December 1, 2016March 3rd, 2017Lifestyle

It’s rare to hear advice from a healthcare professional that cautions against exercise. After all, many of the conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system are the direct result of a sedentary lifestyle.

However, when you’re experiencing pain in the neck or shoulder, some exercises just won’t help, and others could make aggravate it. Identifying the origin of your pain and knowing what not to do is one of the most important steps towards helping you recover from pain and/or injury.

Why are Neck and Shoulder Pain so Common?
Everybody knows what you mean when you call someone a “real pain in the neck.” When an expression forms part of our general lexicon, it’s safe to say neck pain is a common condition. Sometimes the cause is obvious, like the discomfort that comes after an injury or accident. At other times, it can be a little harder to get to the root of the problem.

Like many plagues of the modern age, neck pain is often caused by prolonged immobility. The heavy weight of a human head sits upon a relatively small stem of vertebrae, muscles, tendons and ligaments. The human body is adaptable and strong enough to support this.  However, when nerve endings are mechanically deformed from being held in static positions they can become sensitive.  When you factor in the natural tendency to crouch towards whatever we’re looking at – notably, computer and mobile device screens – it’s easy to understand how this area becomes strained.

The term “shoulder pain” tends to be used broadly to address any discomfort on either side of the top of the body. In some cases, it has little to do with the actual shoulder joint at all. In fact, a quick review the anatomy of the upper back can help you understand why the source of pain in the neck or shoulder is so difficult to isolate:


As you can see, the area where the neck and arms meet the torso comprises a number of interconnected systems. Treating the upper back, neck and shoulder areas as one cohesive unit, and adjusting daily routines accordingly, can help to address some aches and pains.

Avoid these Exercises to Keep Pain from Getting Worse
It’s safe to say that we could all use more exercise, but avoiding specific types of exercise can help you avoid further strain that will only exacerbate the problem:

  • Sit-ups: The importance of a strong core is well intentioned but not well supported by evidence. Sit-ups are far from the best way to achieve ‘core strength’ anyway.  It is not a very functional exercise and if done poorly can often exacerbate back or neck pain.  Work with a certified trainer or physiotherapist to learn about effective abdominal and back exercises that won’t make your neck or back pain worse.
  • Military Press: The military press is an exercise that asks you to push weight up over your head. When done correctly, and in the absence of an existing injury, it’s a very useful exercise that hits a number of muscle groups at once. However, when you’re already experiencing pain in the neck or shoulders, it puts a lot of stress on an area that is already under strain.
  • Bridges: Bridges are an excellent way to strengthen your body and an important component of any yoga class. They can also put a lot of pressure on the cervical spine. When you’re already experiencing discomfort, speak with a qualified professional to help find an alternate exercise to prevent further damage.

The bottom line is that there is rarely a reason to stop exercising altogether when you’re in a recovery period, but carefully crafting a workout routine that avoids worsening an injury will help you get back to normal more quickly.

See the Right Healthcare Professional for the Job!
It’s important to devise a holistic strategy to manage both the cause and the symptoms of your neck and shoulder pain. For example, a massage therapist can help to address the pain you are experiencing right now, while a series of exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist can help you to strengthen the area and alleviate the source of the pain.

It’s our belief that nobody should be forced to accept that chronic pain in the neck or shoulder is just a “normal” part of life. At Achieve Health in Victoria, BC, we use evidence-based care to help our clients work towards a life without pain. Contact us today to start work on a customized treatment plan.