Many of you will have read the title of this blog and thought to yourself “yeah, actually I do have achy shoulders, how did they know?” Well it's an easy guess. The majority of people that have worked a desk based job, for an extended period of time, will have achy shoulders. However, a lot of the time it's not actually the shoulder joints causing the problem. There's a good chance that it's actually your upper fibres of trapezius (UFT). They make up part of the trapezius muscle, which covers almost the entirety of your upper back. The trapezius has varying functions dependent on the portion that is active. The trapezius muscle can be divided into three different sections, with each section having a different orientation for its muscle fibres. This causes a different movement of the scapula (shoulder blade), neck and thoracic spine when they contract.
The UFT shrugs the shoulders and prevents your shoulders being pulled down, for example when carrying a heavy bag. It also has an affect on rotating and bending your beck. The middle fibres of trapezius (MFT) pull your shoulders backward, and pinch your shoulder blades together, with the help of the rhomboid muscles. The lower fibres of trapezius (LFT) pull your shoulder blades down and together. The whole of the trapezius also functions as a stabiliser for your shoulder blades and via them, your shoulder.
So why is it always the UFT that’s achy and not the other areas?
The UFT is naturally the part of the muscle that is put under stress for the longest time throughout the day. It has to support the weight of your arms and anything that you carry. On top of this, if you have a rounded upper back and protracted shoulders (think the slumped posture you get at work) the UFT is put in a position where it is stretched constantly. This constant stretch under tension causes the aching sensation to occur after a while. I won’t go into depth as to exactly how this happens, as it will bore you senseless, but essentially the muscle fatigues and aches as a result.
The other consequences of this slouched posture is that the other parts of the trapezius muscle become stretched, inhibited and weak. This is an issue because it further compounds the effects of the posture, making it more difficult to improve. This posture will also compromise the health of your shoulder joints, your neck and your spine. As you can see, achy shoulders can be the start of some bigger problems!
So how do you go about resolving the problem?
Essentially you need to work to reverse the posture. This means strengthening the MFT, LFT and the rhomboids, whilst stretching the muscles at the front of your body that do the opposite movements, in this case the pectorals. You will also need to strengthen one other set of muscles, that I haven’t mentioned yet, they are the spinal erectors. Their function is to extend your back.
It will also be a good idea to break the habits that may have caused you to have this posture in the first place. This means avoiding long periods of time sitting at a desk or on the sofa, for more information see our recent blog post- sitting isn’t the new smoking.
Keep an eye on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts (links at the bottom of the page) and for future blogs that will provide some advice on different exercises that could help with resolving those achey shoulders of yours.
Sometimes just following home advice isn’t enough to get rid of your pain, in situations like this you might need some hands on treatment. If you think that’s the case, don’t hesitate to contact us!