Shoulder pain

My shoulders hurt – and they have for years. There are good days and bad days, but I usually get up with painful shoulders, go all day with a dull ache, and go back to bed with it too. I can recall pain for at least the last 7 years – I distinctly remember it from learning to drive, seven years ago, because some days, doing over-the-shoulder checks caused me real twinges.

Well, technically, probably not my actual shoulders but the muscle that joins my neck to my shoulders. A quick google suggests this might be my trapezius muscle. Since I’m pretty sure it’s a muscular problem and not a skeletal one, I think that it must be something I am doing (or not doing) routinely, not an injury or anything like that.

In the last few days there has been no shortage of suggestions about what the cause might be, and how I fix it.

Whilst bellringing this afternoon, it was my “sloppy, lazy” technique that was being blamed. I mostly ring in a tower where I’m the only man, and I’m a bit taller than all the other ringers. The ropes are too long for me, and what I should do is tie a knot in them to shorten them. But I mostly don’t. With too much rope in my hands, I tend not to ring to the full extent of my arms over my head, as you should, but use a shortened technique that rarely sees my hands get higher than my face.

So solution #1 – tie a knot in it.

P has long suspected that my home office is to blame. And he’s right – from a ergonomic perspective, it’s a nightmare. I have a cheap desk and a cheap office chair. And it doesn’t meet any of the guidelines for a good workspace. The monitor is not at eye level. The chair doesn’t rise high enough and the desk is too low. And I spend far too much of my time there as I do a lot of work at my desk, responding to email, surfing the net, doing basic graphic design, and blogging. And then I also spend a lot of my leisure time at my desk too, watching DVDs on my second computer, responding to email, surfing the net, blogging… An unkind person might point out there are not clear distinctions between my work and my leisure, but the upshot as far as this post is concerned, is that I spend far too long sitting in a poor work environment.

Solution #2 then – invest in a better chair, desk and monitor stand.

That’s rather more expensive than tying a knot in a rope. I briefly visited a shop in Sherwood, down the road from me, where they sell back-friendly work equipment. And it’s all rather scarily priced. And there’s also the unimaginable faff of having to tidy my office enough to get new furniture in.

Culprit number three for causing my shoulder pain is poor posture. Watching myself on telly last week was eye opener in just how bad my normal standing posture is. Thinking about, people have told me over the years that I don’t stand straight enough, and I spend a few days squaring my shoulders and making a conscious effort to stand more upright, and then return to my previous round-shouldered slouch. I think I also poke my head forward too much as well.

Solution #3 – well I don’t know. Stand up straight? Is it really as easy as that?

On to number four. The gym. I went back to the gym yesterday when the weather was just too awful to go leafleting. I’d had four months off from gym, four months in which the Council benefits from my sub without the expense of me turning up. Writing about gym-going is probably another whole post, but my basic activity is 10 mins tread mill, 10 on the rowing machine, 10 on the cross trainer, then two lots of 12 reps on three weight machines: the chest press, the vertical traction machine and the leg press. Then, if I’ve got there early enough, ten minutes sitting and sweating in the dry sauna – the health suite closes before the gym.

There’s no doubt that my shoulder pain is worse when I’ve been at the gym. It doesn’t appear to be related to how often I go. I do end my routine with some stretches, but I feel more self-conscious about that than any other part of the routine and possibly don’t spend as long doing that as anything else. All the advice is that you should stretch after exercising, and there are posters around the gym explaining it. And yet I never see anyone else stretching. Why ever not?

Solution #4 – better stretches? give up going to the gym?

Then there’s bedding and how I sleep. I sleep on two pillows, because I just don’t feel able to sleep if my head isn’t quite elevated. It also helps with my reflux disorder. I was fascinated to read, a few weeks ago, Alan Fleming’s account of how changing his duvet helped relieve him of some of his pain. I’ve never had the accidents he refers to so I have no rotator cuff injuries. And an excuse to buy a down-filled duvet would certainly be good – I’ve only ever slept under one for a short time, staying in the house that featured on the back of the Elgar £20 notes and working at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival in 1999.

Solution #5: replace duvet?? Have to consult with the husband and cats who share the bed…

Then, if some of my leisure time is spent at my desk, other hours are spent on the sofa sitting in front the telly. We have two sofas, both hand-me-downs from friends and family, both very tired. The cushions need restuffing, and they collapse as soon as you look at them. Neither is very comfortable. Neither can be terribly back friendly. So, we need new sofas. We’ve been to have a look at various furniture shops and haven’t yet found anything that actually feels nice to sit on, and we also feel very wary about investing in new sofas simply because of what the cats will do them. They’ve already helped destroy the ones we have.

Solution #6: replace sofas – we’re not in any way racking up the cost needed to be spent on fixing the problem, are we?

Finally, an initial google suggests this muscle is one of the first to start hurting if you suffer from stress.

Solution #7: reduce stress. In an election year. Highly likely.

With some issues like this, you never quite know how seriously to take it. Is pain like this something pretty much everyone my age and weight ((another phrase from that same outing at the Worcester Three Choirs. I spent an evening with Kit and Widow, and escorting Kit back from a gig around the cathedral at night, we found a gate barring our way. Rather than retrace our steps, we first tried to climb it, which led to him referring to the lyrics of Mad about the Boy, “It seems a little silly / For a girl of my age and weight / To walk down Piccadilly in a haze of light.” I missed the reference entirely until it was pointed out to me)) experiences? Is it an inevitable part of getting older? Or can it be fixed?

Is it something that’s serious enough to raise with my GP, or would that be wasting valuable NHS resources? Should I go straight to an ancillary health professional instead, and if so, which one? A physiotherapist? Surely not – they’re for sportsmen and injured people? A chiropractor? Aren’t they “alternative” ? An osteopath? What’s the difference? A masseur? But how do you tell the difference between real, trained masseurs and prostitutes dressing it up a bit for newspaper ads?

Your thoughts and solutions to shoulder pain – warmly welcomed in the comments!

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6 comments on “Shoulder pain

  1. Penny says:

    I’ve suffered for years and spent lots of money one way and another. Used to see an osteopath who also did acupuncture and massage – he was very good and it always helped but I always needed to go back a few months down the line. He said I carried all my tension in my neck and shoulders…
    Moving to Wales I sought out a new osteopath – she referred me to a masseuse at the same clinic who was lovely and I saw her a couple of times before I bumped into the Alexander teacher. He was offering a free introductory lesson followed by a half price one so I thought I’d give it a try, especially as he said he could also help with my carpal tunnel syndrome which had stopped me knitting and crocheting and made driving uncomfortable for years.
    Result for me was astounding – even after the intro which was mostly talking about the history of the technique and very little guidance I found that the moment I felt my shoulders moving up towards my ears I only had to think ‘I can’t remember the words’ (he’d used a lot of key phrases for the basic directions) for them to drop, just like that, all by themselves 🙂
    This phrase still works for me which always makes me smile.
    One of the key things about the Alexander technique is that it is about doing nothing – not holding onto all those tensions you’ve learnt over the years, releasing all the muscles.
    Works for me and my granddaughter now suffers ^W benefits from my knitting and crochet 😉

  2. Mark Pack says:

    My advice would be – take it seriously and go see your GP. I’d be amazed if the GP thought it was a waste of time given how often people leave treating back problems until too late and they are then harder (and more expensive for the NHS) to resolve.

  3. Alan says:

    Give me a call or email. Been there, done that, still occasionally get it wrong and blog about it :/

  4. Michael says:

    I had a desk once where I couldn’t put my forearm down when I used the mouse and suffered from horrendous neck and upper arm pain that never went away.
    Once I got a deeper desk and could rest my arm the pain disappeared.
    I’d better get it right nowadays as I am supposed to be the Display Screen Evaluator at work. 🙂

  5. Jane says:

    For me, Traditional Five Element acupuncture has been the way to go. Yes, it is a bit ‘alternative’ and no, you wouldn’t go for a short course and never have to go back, but being holistic, it might well help with your reflux problem as well, not to mention erratic sleep patterns 😉

    Like Penny, I’ve had back problems for 30 years and used to tell people who asked that I never thought of being a full-time potter because I knew my back would not allow it. Been a full-time potter for about four years now and I know that’s mostly down to acupuncture.

    Stress is the biggest factor, though, including things you don’t think of as stressful per se. Now when my back starts complaining I ask myself what’s bothering me and there’s always something.

    Mark’s advice is good. I always tell my GP about stuff even though he can rarely do anything to fix it. One day he might 🙂

  6. I find that a microwave wheat bag can give some relief from shoulder pain by using heat therapy. A neck and shoulder wrap applies soothing heat directly to the affected area easing muscle aches and strains.

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