Five Easy Exercises to Reduce Your Neck and Shoulder Pain

A recent Danish study has shown that completing five basic exercises a few times a week can reduce neck and shoulder pain.

The study revealed that strength training exercises using dumbbells can reduce and improve function in the trapezius muscle. This large muscle extends from the back of the head, down the neck and into the upper back, and is responsible for much pain and tension experienced by many Australians – especially those who work in an office.

As well as reduce pain, the exercises also improved the muscle’s ability to respond quickly. Repetitive strain injury or general trapezius myalgia (muscle pain) is a common condition caused by long hours in front of computers or at a desk, but can also afflict those with more active jobs.

As part of the Danish study run by several researchers from the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen in conjunction with the Institute of Sports Medicine, Bispebjerg Hospital (also in Copenhagen), 42 women who worked in offices on repetitive tasks and did computer work participated in the 10-week study.

All participants had reported chronic or frequent pain in the neck area, and tightness and tenderness of the upper trapezius muscle. The researchers randomly divided the women into three groups:

  1. Specific strength training. This group of 18 women did five exercises with dumbbells – one-arm row, shoulder abduction, shoulder elevation, reverse fly and upright row. These exercises are commonly used to strengthen the shoulder and neck muscles, including the trapezius. The participants did 3 sets of 3 repetitions, 3 times a week. The amount of weight lifted depended upon each woman’s strength level and was progressively increased throughout the 10 weeks.
  2. General fitness training. This group of 16 women cycled upright on a stationary bike. The researchers wanted to see whether the general fitness exercises would improve rapid force capacity (the ability to activate the muscle quickly and forcefully). The women in this group cycled three sessions per week for 20 minutes per session.
  3. Reference (Control). This group of eight women received individual and group counseling on ergonomics, diet, health, relaxation and stress management for a total of one hour per week. They did not complete any physical training.

All participants completed shoulder abductions before the 10-week intervention began and after it ended to measure the contraction, force and strength of the muscle. Muscle biopsy samples were also taken to analyse the affected muscle fibres and pain levels at each of the sessions.


The cycling did not significantly affect force capacity. Significant changes occurred only in the strength-training group. Those who completed the exercises reported reduced pain levels by more than 50%, as well as improve force capacity and increased number of important, power-generating muscle fibres.

The Spinal Centre’s Comment:

Unfortunately most people do not exercise nearly enough, if at all. This is a shame considering the many positive benefits that just a few minutes of exercise a day can bring.

More than two-thirds of Australians are now overweight, and millions more are suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – potentially fatal conditions brought on from being overweight and unhealthy.

Exercise should be viewed as a drug. Unlike commercial drugs, exercise doesn’t have any nasty side-effects – it will only make you feel better, stronger and pain-free.

For those suffering from back, neck and joint pain, it’s often easier and may even feel better to sit around or lie in bed all day. You may feel unable to complete any exercise, however once you are past the acute pain stage, it’s crucial that you start to move around and exercise. Not only will this quicken your recovery and reduce your pain levels – it will also allow you to get the most from your musculoskeletal or chiropractic care.

This is great research showing the positive results of a few dumbbell exercises for shoulder pain and tightness. If you work behind a desk or at a computer for extended hours, you will undoubtedly know of the shoulder pain and stiffness that arises after a short time. For those who have more active jobs, completing more strength training will boost your muscle strength, power and recovery. Realistically, there is no downside other than a few minutes of your day and a little bit of hard work.

We have written recently about the positive benefits of exercise for back pain, and adding a few shoulder exercises to the routine can provide you with an all-over back pain exercise regime.

To make life easier, we have created a downloadable exercise sheet illustrating the ‘5 Exercises for Neck and Shoulder Pain’. To download your free copy of this exercise sheet, click on the link below.

 5 Exercises for Neck and Shoulder Pain.pdf

What else can I do?

If you suffer from back, neck, joint or muscular pain, seek a musculoskeletal practitioner. Good health requires careful attention to your musculoskeletal system. It is, after all, the system that moves you around every day and allows you to complete all the tasks you need for work, sport or home duties. For more information on how regular care can help you, click here.

Use magnesium. Did you know most complaints of aching, tired, stiff and sore muscles is due to a magnesium deficiency? Magnesium is pivotal in the correct function of muscles, nerve and tissues, however most of us are low on this vital nutrient. The Spinal Centre stocks a range of the BEST and STRONGEST magnesium supplements available. Click here to view a complete list.

Stop reaching for the Nurofen. Nurofen and Voltaren use boosts your risk of developing heart disease or bleeding from the bowel. These anti-inflammatories aren’t tissue specific, which means they attack the stomach lining and can cause irreparable damage to your body. For a list of our best natural anti-inflammatories, click here. These tissue specific natural supplements go straight to the source of the inflammation to dispel pain and ease swelling.

Are you using a fish oil? Fish oil is important for the correct functioning of cells, muscles, tissues and especially joints. Regular use will ease inflammation at a cellular level, reducing inflammation and pain in the body and encouraging healthy skin, nails, hair and eyesight. For a list of our best fish oils, click here.

How often do you exercise? Cardio exercise is just as important as strength training, and if you are exercising a few times a week, it’s time to change your habits. For a good starting guide, refer to Stretching and Exercise. This back-to-basic guide gives you some good starting points for beginning a new exercise program.

You are what you eat. If you eat rubbish, then expect to feel like it too. Whatever you eat affects your body dramatically. Eating too much processed, oily, fatty and grain-based food creates the perfect environment for pain, inflammation and injury.

Many of the patients we see in the clinic presented with both back pain symptoms and a terrible diet. When they cleaned up their diet, their pain eased too. Begin with Health Promoting Nutrition – this easy-to-follow guide will set you in the right direction. Why Change our Diet? will provide the motivation you need, while Eating to Reduce Inflammation discusses the detrimental effects wheat and grains have on your body.

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