Working from home is becoming more and more common. In fact, 90% of workers when asked expressed a desire to be able to do more work from home1. While working from home has many benefits, such as enhanced comfort, increased productivity, and elimination of long commutes, it can cause you to develop habits, such as poor posture, that increase your risk of experiencing neck and shoulder pain.
Much of our time while working from home is spent sitting hunched over a computer or doing work on a laptop while slouching low against the back of the sofa. These posture issues can cause neck and shoulder pain by stressing muscles and putting weight on the neck and shoulder area2,3.
Symptoms of neck and shoulder pains: What does it feel like?
There are several muscles that are connected to both the neck and shoulder and as a result, when those muscles are stained, the pain can be felt in both the neck and shoulder4. Since the cause is the same, the symptoms may also be similar. The key difference is the area in which you experience pain.
Neck pain is most commonly felt in the back of the neck. However, you can experience pain and symptoms anywhere on the neck including the sides and the front5.
When it comes to shoulder pain, there are a few areas where you will feel pain or experience noticeable symptoms. Those areas include the rotator cuff (front of the shoulder), upper shoulders, biceps, and shoulder blade6.
Everyone's experience will differ when it comes to neck and shoulder pain7. However, the most common symptoms of neck and shoulder pain are7,:
- Feeling of muscle stiffness.
- Mobility issues - it may be difficult or painful to turn your head or move your shoulder
- Headaches - usually caused by neck strain.
- Pain that radiates - for example, neck pain may feel like it is spreading to the upper arms, upper back or shoulders.
- Sudden shooting pain that comes out of nowhere and feels like it "travels" downwards.9
What causes neck pain?
A wide variety of things can cause neck pain. Common causes of neck pain can include7:
- Muscle inflammation or irritation
While some of the causes of neck pain, such as arthritis7, are medical issues, some of the causes are a direct result of our modern lifestyle.
Some of the things you do daily that could cause neck strain and pain include10:
- Sitting for long periods of time at a computer while working from home or at school.
- Carrying a heavy backpack or purse.
- Poor posture - sitting slumped or hunched over in a chair or while standing.
- Improper positioning while sleeping.
- Not taking time to relax or reduce stress.
- Hunching shoulders while texting.
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
What causes shoulder pain?
Shoulder pain is often caused by irritation and inflammation of the muscle. There are a number of things that could cause the muscle to become irritated and inflamed. Some of the causes of shoulder pain include11:
- Overuse injuries- they occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue, often by overdoing an activity or through repetition of an activity.
- Sudden injury which causes injury or irritation to the tendons and nearby muscles.
Occasionally, you may experience referred pain when experiencing problems with your shoulder. Referred pain is when pain originates in one area, and it can be felt in another area. Problems with your shoulder and neck can cause referred pain because the two areas are connected via multiple nerve pathways9.
With so many nerve pathways connecting the shoulder and neck area, the shoulder blade pain you might be experiencing may be caused by a compressed nerve in the neck. This causes you to experience nerve shoulder pain.9
How to relieve neck and shoulder pain
The Canadian Chiropractic Guideline Initiative recommends using a combination of treatment options, such as OTC pain relievers, stretching and application of ice/heat, to manage mild to moderate shoulder and neck pain12.
Visiting a doctor can help you determine what methods may provide the most effective shoulder and neck pain relief. A doctor, after a thorough examination, can help you determine the best treatment options for neck and shoulder pain relief for your unique situation.
Over-the-counter pain relief medication such as TYLENOL® Muscle & Body, that contains acetaminophen, can help with temporary relief of mild to moderate aches and pains due to muscle sprains and strains.
For situations where you are experiencing muscle stiffness in addition to pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain medication, like Extra Strength TYLENOL® Back Pain, which contains acetaminophen in addition to a muscle relaxant (methocarbamol).
If your doctor suspects your pain is caused by inflammation, an NSAID (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), like MOTRIN® (ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication), may be recommended as it provides effective relief of pain due to inflammation13.
IMPORTANT: Take only ONE medicine at a time containing acetaminophen.
To be sure any TYLENOL® or MOTRIN® product is right for you, always read and follow the labels.
If your pain feels severe, then consult a doctor immediately.
Other treatment options your doctor may recommend for shoulder and neck pain include12:
- Application of heat/ice - Ice should be used in the first 24-48 hours after which heat, in the form of hot showers, heating pads or warm compresses, should be used14
- Gentle range-of-motion exercises focused on mobilization and manipulation
- Massage - Clinical massages or self-massage help soothe painful areas
- Gentle stretches such as shoulder rolls and shoulder shrugs
Prevention & pain management
Prevention of neck and shoulder pain starts with making a few changes to your daily routine or activities. Oftentimes, stopping or modifying a certain activity that is aggravating or causing your neck or shoulder pain is enough to help you manage any current pain and possibly prevent any occurrence of pain in the future7,14.
Some changes that may help you manage and prevent neck and shoulder pain include15:
- Practice good posture - Try to stand as straight as possible with your head up and shoulder back and down.
- Modify your workstation - Set computers at eye level and keep keyboards in a position that doesn't require you to hunch or tilt when typing.
- Take frequent breaks - Taking frequent breaks to gently stretch and move around can help prevent work from home pains.
- Perform gentle range-of-motion exercises and stretches - Shoulder shrugs, head rolls and shoulder rolls.
- Change your sleep position - avoid sleeping on your stomach. Try to sleep on your back or side.
- Switch out your pillows to ones that are designed to provide neck support.
- Take frequent breaks when talking on the phone - If you need to use the phone a lot consider using a hands-free device or a headset.
- Take frequent breaks when driving as this avoids having you sitting in a hunched position for prolonged periods of time.
Living today’s modern lifestyle has its benefits, but there is one downside - it can encourage to engage in activities and develop habits that can cause neck and shoulder pain. Identifying what activities and habits cause you pain and then making certain modifications can help you find pain relief especially if you are experiencing body pain while working from home.
It will take time for you to experience pain relief after making changes and modifications to your activities and habits. For neck and shoulder pain that interferes with your daily life, taking over-the-counter pain medication like TYLENOL® can prove helpful.
If you experience persistent pain that is severe and does not go away with lifestyle changes and modifications, or if new pains appear or the pain gets worse, it is important to see a doctor. A doctor can assess your situation to determine if there are other underlying causes of your pain and discuss other treatment options for pain relief.