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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Relieving Neck and Shoulder Tension


If you’re like most people these days, you sit a lot, lean over a computer, use a cell phone, carry a purse or other bag on your shoulder, and drive a car – and chances are you have chronic tightness and discomfort in your neck and shoulders.

Here are some ways to relieve neck and shoulder pain. RELEASING THE SCALENES


The scalene muscles are a group of three pairs of muscles running along the sides of the neck. They originate in the cervical vertebrae C2 to C7 and insert onto the first and second ribs, connecting the head to the rib cage. They allow us to hold up our heads and move our necks.

An adult human brain weighs about three pounds. The adult human skull plus its eyes, teeth, facial muscles and skin weighs about seven to eight pounds. So all in all, an adult human head weighs around 10 to 11 pounds (4.5 to 5 kilograms).

Imagine balancing two five-pound bags of sugar at the top of your neck and having to support that weight and control its minute movements side to side and up and down.

Many of us also tend to hold emotional tension in our neck muscles. Weight of head slumping forward over a cell phone


With all the work our necks do and the less than good upper body posture most of us maintain, it’s easy to see how our scalenes get chronically stressed.

These two useful videos, by Dr Jasper, who calls himself the Wizard of Health, show how to work the trigger points to release the scalenes and how to do effective scelene neck stretches:



Our trapezius muscles extend lengthwise from the occipital bone at the base of the skull to the lower thoracic vertebrae and across the shoulders. They allow us to move our shoulder blades and arms. We also tend to keep a lot of emotional tension in these muscles.

Using a 10 foot yoga strap is a nifty way to keep your shoulders and neck in proper alignment and de-stress your trapezius muscles. This video, by Roberta Dell’Anno, E-RYT 500, Certified Scoliosis Trainer, and owner of EssentialYoga Studio in Andover, MA, shows two ways to use a strap for improving posture and releasing shoulder tension.

Ellen Saltonstall’s Bodymind Ballwork offers several techniques for using balls of various sizes and hardnesses to release muscles in the body. Here’s an example of Ellen using some of the balls on the shoulders:

Source: Ellen Saltonstall

Bodymind Ballwork is a bodywork system that can benefit people of any age or physical condition. The distinct feature of Bodymind Ballwork is the use of rubber balls of varying sizes and textures (as small as a walnut and as big as a melon), which support, massage and stretch localized areas of the body.  There are techniques for every part of you, from head to toes. The result is a wonderful feeling of lightness and ease in the body, and quiet alertness in the mind. To quote one student: ‘It’s like having a massage therapist in your pocket’.

“I have chosen the name Bodymind Ballwork for what I teach to underscore the truth that any and all experiences register in the body and the mind simultaneously. Our mental state will shift from working on the body, and our physical state will shift from mental focus. We are already “integrated” but we don’t always feel that way. This technique is an elegantly simple and profound pathway toward the experience of integrated self.

“Bodymind Ballwork evolved from my forty-year practice of Kinetic Awareness, a bodywork method developed in the 1960’s by Elaine Summers who was a dancer, choreographer, film-maker and teacher.  The origins of this approach to bodymind education go back to pre-war Germany, to the work of Elsa Gindler, an innovative physical education teacher.”

– Ellen Saltonstall An assortment of Bodymind Ballwork balls

Source: Ellen Saltonstall

Her new book about Bodymind Ballwork will be coming out soon. I highly recommend it in advance for whatever ails you. In the meantime, here’s Ellen’s website. There’s also the Acu-Masseur made by the Body Back Company. It looks like it might be a kinky S & M device but is actually a clever way to apply shiatsu pressure to specific, hard to reach parts of the body to release tension. It’s particularly effective on tight trapezius muscles.

I also find self-applied reflexology on various acupressure points along the fleshy and cartilaginous parts of the outer ear very helpful. This is Acupressure Therapist Dr Michael Reed Gach’s video on how to use the Shen Men acupressure point in the outer ear to boost wellness, relieve inflammation and pain, and counter addictions.

Chronic neck and shoulder pain are not necessary parts of aging. I hope you find some relief in these techniques.


I owe great thanks to Ellen Saltonstall, my therapeutic yoga and Bodymind Ballwork teacher in New York City, for helping me relieve the tension I held in my neck and shoulders and also to Warren Fraser, MD, for spurring me to write this post. REFERENCES (2016). Acu-Masseur. See:

Dell’Anno, D. (2012). Video: Using a Yoga Strap to Improve Posture & Release Tension in the Neck & Shoulders. See: Gach, M.R. (2013). Video: Health Boosting Acupressure Ear Point. See: Jasper. (2015). Wizard of Video: How to treat scalene muscle trigger points – trigger points – how to self treat trigger point pains. See:

Jasper. (2015). Wizard of Video: Best scalene muscle stretch – scalene trigger points – neck stretch – scalene neck stretch See:

Saltonstall, E. (2016). Ellen Saltonstall. See: © Copyright 2016. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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