The ‘Cold (Weather) Shoulder’

Winter tips

Cold ShoulderAbout this time of year, as the weather gets colder, we see a lot of people whose usually manageable (or non-existent) neck and shoulder pain has become more noticeable, or even unbearable. I like to call this the ‘cold weather shoulder’. In this post, we look at some possible causes and what you can do to prevent or alleviate it.

Most people walk around with a certain level of tension in their neck and shoulders. Desk work, overtraining the chest, heavy bags, lifting children – there are myriad ways in which our posture is compromised in such a way to overuse and/or strain those muscles. Often it only takes one extra aggravating factor to set off a pain signal, or in some cases a spasm that restricts our ability to turn our head from side to side – in this case, cold weather.

Applying heat or cold to our neck is one of the easiest ways to change our body temperature. When the weather gets cold, you may, without realising it, adjust your posture to try and protect your neck from the cold, which usually means lowering your head further forward and lifting up your shoulder, placing additional strain on your neck and shoulder muscles.

How to Avoid

So how can you avoid this? Number one, wear a warm scarf. When you keep your neck warm with a scarf (or similar winter wear) it’s much easier to keep your posture in a better position in the face of a blustery winter day. You’ll then be able to drop your shoulders and lengthen your neck comfortably. While it will take some time to break the habit of hunching over in the cold weather, it will be easier to do if your neck is warm. Whenever you can remember, check your posture when you’re outside to make sure you’re not lifting your shoulders up and sticking your chin out. If you carry a bag or a rucksack, imagine it’s a weight pulling your shoulders back and down, encouraging a better posture.

While we all know we should have perfect posture all the time, it’s not always doable. As you work to improve your posture, here are a couple stretches that should help relieve some muscle tension caused by poor posture. As with all stretches/exercises, you should check with a health professional before starting any new regime, especially if you have any pre-existing problems in your neck and shoulders. For the full disclaimer, see the end of the post.

Chest Stretch

Most of us have a tight chest that pulls our neck and shoulders forward, so to make it easier to hold open and drop your shoulders, stretch out your chest.  If you have seen me before for neck and shoulder pain, you probably know this one, but if not, here’s a recap:

1) Find a doorframe, pillar or post. Put your arm at a 90 degree angle from your chest, with your body in line with your hand.

2) Keep your shoulder down and chest aligned. Gently lean forward to find a slight stretch in your chest. If you feel it in the back of your shoulder, take a deep breath and let go of the muscles in your back.

3) Don’t let your shoulder come up or stay behind with your arm. Make sure you’re not pushing from your back – lean with body weight.

4) If you have a history of shoulder problems or dislocations this stretch may not be right for you – check with a health professional before trying especially if you fall in one of those categories.

Neck/Top of Shoulder Stretch

To help reduce the pain in your neck and shoulders, here’s a simple neck and shoulder stretch, and like the chest stretch, you can do it anywhere.

1) To keep your shoulder down, take the hand of the side you want to stretch and grab the edge of your seat, a shelf, or wrap it around your back.

2) Gently tilt your head away from the shoulder. To stretch the side of the neck, face forward.  To stretch the back of the neck, face down.

3) Once you feel a GENTLE stretch, hold for 10-30 seconds. If you feel a release, you can increase the stretch slightly, but you should never over-stretch or force anything.

4) Important: whenever you tilt your head, do it slowly and imagine that you’re lifting your head away from your shoulders instead of compressing your neck (think: long neck).  If it is painful, don’t do it, and if you have a history of neck problems or injury, or you have any cause for concern regarding your neck, always check with a health practitioner before engaging in new exercises.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. All reasonable care has been taken in compiling the information but no warranty is made as to its accuracy. For diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions it is always advisable to consult a doctor or other health care professional to ensure the specific details of your case are taken into account. You should always consult a healthcare professional before embarking on any new exercise program, including stretching, especially where there are pre-existing conditions.

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7 Responses

  1. I was in a car accident 2 years ago, I been in a lot of pain all my let side in August 22 2016 I had spine Surgery
    but I’m still in a lot of pain, last year on summer time I felt that my pain increase with humidity I couldn’t be out side or be at beach, now is very cold or if is cold and rainy my pain get worse, I question this symptom to my Doctor, my Doctor doesn’t think the weather is worsening my pain I do feel the deference on weather change . What can I do to make my Doctor believe in me.
    Thank you Sincerely Manuela Vicente

    1. Hi Manuela, I’m sorry to hear about your discomfort. Have you gone to see a physio or massage therapist? I’m not sure where you’re located, but most of the time if you have recurrent muscle pain a doctor will refer you to a physio, massage therapist, or osteopath. It may be more helpful for you to ask for a referral to someone who specialises in dealing with post-surgical pain. I hope that helps 🙂

  2. This information is very helpful me. I have to say that for the last few of hours i have been hooked by the impressive articles on this website. Keep up the wonderful work.

  3. Hello Katherine

    I feel pain in my arm and shoulder left side and i think it causes from tge cold weather. Do you any cream can help to remove the pain please? Thank you

    Kings Regards

    1. Hi Faycel, sorry to hear about your arm and shoulder. First if you have strong pain in your left arm have you checked with your doctor so they can be sure nothing more serious is going on? If you have and they have confirmed there’s nothing internal going on, I would strongly recommend you go to somehow who can relieve the muscle tension in that area. Any cream would just be numbing the pain, not dealing with the underlying reason for the pain, and would probably end up with something more serious down the line. Good luck! I hope you’re able to feel better soon.

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