Shoulder aches and how to relieve them?

July 11, 2022 | Blog, Wellbeing

Shoulder ache and relief advice from Katy McConkey, founder of Osteopatía del Mar. She trained in the UK and Spain and has been based in Barcelona for over 30 years. She is passionate about her work: keeping up on the latest research, seeing people improve after treatments, and being in the position of meeting such a variety of great people who come to the clinic every day. Here she talks about the common causes of achy shoulders and some easy solutions.

Common causes of achy shoulders and some easy solutions


You may find at the end of a long day you are permanently self-massaging one of your shoulders to get the ache out of it.

Why do shoulders ache and how can we relieve them?


Raising your shoulder while you are doing everyday activities can be wholly unconscious. And it can even become the new “normal”.  Many a time I remember in a Tai Chi class being told to drop my shoulder (hunched around my ears) …and always thinking ” BUT it is down”. And here I’m not talking about rounded shoulders, sloping or falling forward shoulders…we can get onto that another day!  

A permanently raised shoulder (or shoulders) leads to tightened muscles and soreness on that side of the shoulder, across the upper back, and around the base of your neck. The constant tightness and soreness mean you will adjust your posture accordingly to get some relief and this may lead to you adapting to an incorrect posture. You may feel some immediate relief but effectively you have adapted your posture to a raised shoulder norm

The shoulder girdle works as a complex interaction of many muscles, many of which work as antagonists, meaning that when one tightens its opposite pair automatically releases. So you can see when your shoulders are not set in the right position the mechanics of shoulder movement will be affected, with some muscle overworking (or permanently tight and unable to relax) with others becoming weak and unstable. 

How do you know if your shoulders are raised?


It’s quite hard to tell, as our tense stance feels “normal”. But you can try this easy technique to get you more aware of your posture and relieve aching.

Sit up straight in a chair, or from a standing position, bring both shoulders up to your ears, breathe in deeply, bring them even higher (you may feel some soreness of the muscles tensing in the base of your neck), and take your shoulders back, hold for a few seconds, then let all your breath out suddenly and drop your shoulders. It’s the same as an exaggerated “shrugging your shoulders”. This brings your shoulders into a neutral position, they won’t be held high by tension or forward. Keep practising this and then you’ll be more aware of where your shoulders are, and whether you are unconsciously holding them up. 

If you practise this in front of a mirror and can line yourself up with something horizontal in your eyesight you can also see how to level your shoulders are. (Just so long as they are not level by your ears, this means you forgot to drop them!)


Shoulder aches and how to relieve them?

What are the common everyday activities that lead us to bring one shoulder up? And some possible relief.

Carrying a handbag, briefcase or satchel

If you carry your bag hanging off one shoulder, you will tend to always use this shoulder, and over time this is where tension and muscle pain will be felt. The heavier your bag is the more you are going to automatically compensate for the weight by pulling your shoulder up and leaning over to the other side. 

The next time you are out with a friend/partner/child walk behind them and have a look!

What would help?

Lighten your bag by only taking the essentials with you every day, cross your bag across your body as this will even out the weight or use a rucksack (wearing it with both straps on your shoulders), or remember you can use the technique given above, while walking look into the shop window reflections and self-correct by bringing your shoulder down. If you need to carry a heavy bag, bend your arm at the elbow and bring the bag and your arm to your chest. This will take the weight and tension out of your shoulder.

How are you holding your iron?

If your hand is tense, this tension probably goes all the way up to your shoulder.  

What will help?

Use the weight of the iron to iron with, not your weight pushing down. Keep your hand loose on the iron, your elbow loose and down and this will keep your shoulder down and take the tension away.

Driving a car

A common driving position is to have your right shoulder high in the air holding and to lean on the steering wheel, while your left elbow rests on the armrest. As well as creating a lot of tension in your shoulder and neck you are also twisting your torso.

What will help?

Place both hands at 10 to 2 on the wheel, drop your shoulders and keep your elbows down and loose and near your side. Check your posture/position in the windscreen reflection (not when driving) or ask your back seat passenger to tell you.

Moving your mouse while at your computer

As you move your mouse across the tracking pad and away from you, more than likely you are bringing your elbow out and your shoulder up. Have a look at someone working nearby, or ask someone to look at you while you work and you’ll see what I mean. Check too that you are not hunching over your seat.

What will help?

Drop your shoulders, and your elbows, bring your elbows to your side and keep them there, and move the upper body now as one unit. Feet flat on the floor, 90º bend at the ankles, knees and hips, Face the screen full on. If you are working on two screens you’ll need to be in a swivel chair and turn the chair to face the other screen and not twist your body.

Side-lying sleeping

While side lying sleeping beats front lying sleeping, it also can be a source of neck and shoulder pain if your head is not fully supported. It is easy to fall asleep in side lying position with your shoulder hunched up high into your neck, and poor pillow support, or the wrong height of pillows. 

What will help?

Watch this short 1-minute video showing you how to remedy this.

Shoulder ache take home in two sentences

Practise exaggerated shoulder shrugging to teach yourself where your shoulders are. Keep your elbows down and loose by your side while driving, ironing and working at a computer.

Learn more about shoulder aches and how to relieve them


If you would like any more information about how to relieve shoulder aches or pains and would like to learn about stretches that release the muscles involved, and postural tips that keep your posture aligned and keep it that way you can book yourself in for a one-on-one postural assessment and treatment where you will be given postural advice and tips, bespoke exercise/stretch sheet and very relaxing treatment.

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Read Katy’s comprehensive guide to Osteopathy,  important things to know about Osteoporosis and all about Osteopathy for pregnancy and beyond.

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