The Weight of the World

Neck and shoulder problems are among the most common complaints presented for massage therapists to address. It’s really no surprise when you look at this area of your body.

The most obvious condition we all tend to experience is stress—that carrying “the weight of the world” on our shoulders. This tension we assign to our neck and shoulders may be a big part of the problem, but there are other things to consider.

Functionally, both your neck and shoulder should be extremely flexible. In order to accomplish these ranges of motion, your body’s musculature in this region is appropriately complex. You only need to compare the mechanical functions of your elbow and that of your neck or shoulder to appreciate the difference in complexity.

Also found in this region of the body are two major groupings of nerves that affect the head and upper torso. When tight muscles, etc. impinge on these nerves, it can lead to headaches; breathing difficulties; and/or neck, shoulder, chest, arm, wrist or hand pain.

In other words, sometimes the area where you feel the pain may not be the actual source of the pain. For example, tightness at the base of your skull may be affecting nerve flow that you feel as a headache or as pain in your shoulder or upper arm. The good news is that massage can alleviate these referred pains by addressing the source of the problem. And many of these points are located in the neck and shoulder area.

Other things that may be causing you problems include sleeping in an awkward position, sitting too long at your work station, cradling the phone with your neck, or carrying a heavy bag or suitcase, to name a few. Be aware of these types of activities to try to lessen the likelihood of future problems.

Those who spend their days working at their desks or computers may find that their working position has led them to develop the habit of shallow breathing. Instead of proper breathing from the diaphragm, breathing is now accomplished through the neck and shoulder muscles. This can lead to chronic pain and muscle tension in the area, and the true cause—the shallow breathing—is easily overlooked.

Receiving your regular massage sessions is a great way to reduce or eliminate neck and shoulder complaints. Massage can relax the tension in your muscles and other soft tissues, help to increase range of motion, restore flexibility, and increase the nerve flow through the area. Leave the weight of the world behind for awhile and unwind a little!


Health Hints

In between your massage sessions, you may find the following tips helpful:


  • Loosen your collar.
  • If possible, remove confining or thick garments such as jackets & sweaters.
  • Center your attention before beginning.

Shrugging the Shoulders

When you shrug your shoulders, you are exercising muscles that tend to get pulled forward and hardened by tension. This tension buildup commonly occurs when you sit with your weight resting on your tailbone instead of forward over your hips. Shrugging breaks up the tension and provides a mild form of exercise that increases blood flow and restores mobility. The more you support the mobility of your shoulders, the less likely you’ll be to harbor tension there.

  • Slowly lift your right shoulder straight up to your ear.      
  • Slowly return your right shoulder to a neutral position.
  • Repeat the lift/release movement with the left shoulder.
  • Repeat the lift/release movement with both shoulders together.


  • Keep your shoulder muscles soft as you do this. Don’t force the movement.
  • Don’t tilt your head toward your shoulder. Bring your shoulder up to your ear.
  • Keep the opposite shoulder in a neutral or slightly dropped position and avoid hunching it as     you lift the shrugging shoulder.

Excerpted from Massage for Busy People, by Dawn Groves © 1999. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, Calif.;; toll-free ordering at 800/972-6657, ext. 52.


Did you know . . .  the word strain comes from the Latin word meaning “to draw tight”

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