“I think that it’s stress-related”
I hear this from my patients on a daily basis. Now, some people I treat are professional athletes but most are professional desk workers or commuters. Many people spend 8+ hours seated at a desk performing computer work (or even worse, in a cafe on a laptop) and then an additional 1-2 hours seated in a car -- sound familiar?
This habitual posture wreaks havoc on your shoulder and, as a result, your neck. Aside from how the poor posture of sitting affects your neck (see post, How I Learned to Stop Thinking that Toe Touch is Stretching), sitting at a desk or driving creates a poor work environment for your shoulders (pun intended).
Your teres minor and infraspinatus are two muscles in particular that are subject to repetitive strain with these postures. The picture below gives you a view of your shoulder from behind. Now, imagine that your arm is reaching in front of you all day long -- that motion does not make these muscles very happy!
If you’ve ever suffered from a rotator cuff condition, it’s interesting to note that these two muscles are 2/4 muscles that contribute to your rotator cuff tendon.
Sometimes, trigger points can develop in these muscles and cause a referred discomfort (the sensation of discomfort felt someplace else). For example, a trigger point in the back of your shoulder can cause you to feel the sensation of aching and discomfort in the region of your upper back, shoulder, neck, and/or arm. I frequently treat these trigger points -- it’s amazing how often they can drive “stress-related” shoulder and neck discomfort.
So while stress certainly contributes to the bigger picture of how you feel, some of your vague shoulder or neck aches chalked up to “stress” (worse as the day goes on) might not be stress at all!