Fighting writing pains – some exercises for the shoulders

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Some words from the master, as promised. 🙂


Many of us, sat for years at keyboards and computer screens, have got into the unhealthy habit of ignoring our bodies in the way that we work. We work with our minds, so we don’t worry about our bodies. I’m here today to tell you to pay attention to your body, and to give you some help with that.

If it was good enough for the Victorians then it’s good enough for us. Unless it’s invading someone’s country. Not cool, Victorians. Not cool.

If it was good enough for the Victorians then it’s good enough for us. Unless it’s invading someone’s country. Not cool, Victorians. Not cool.

Here’s the truth – our bodies and minds aren’t separate. You don’t do anything, not even writing a story or looking at cat gifs, without your body being the channel for that activity. And all this sitting at keyboards can really mess you up, especially in the neck and shoulder muscles.

It took me years to realise how big a problem it was for me. My dad suffers from migraines, and I thought that was where my splitting headaches were coming from. But that wasn’t the case. All those headaches were transferred pain, muscle problems with my neck and shoulders working their way up into my head. Of course there were the neck and shoulder aches too, the horrible side effect of spending all that time hunched over a computer.

If you type a lot and you’re having trouble with your head, neck and/or shoulders then I have two recommendations for you. Firstly, find out what a good desk setup looks like, one designed to look after your posture, and spend some time and money arranging it. It’ll be worth the cost and effort to get back the time you would have lost to pain.

Secondly, go and see a physiotherapist. Do it now, not when it gets worse. Early intervention can save a lot of bother further down the line. My physio, the excellent Caroline Boulton of Holistic Life, has massively improved my neck and shoulders in just three sessions, and repeat visits are a huge long term help. She’s also given me exercises to do between times to help balance my muscles and reduce the pain.

But you’re on the internet. You want something you can do right now. Fair enough. So here are two exercises Caroline has taught me. These come with a huge caveat – these are the right exercises for me, not necessarily for you, so even if you use them you should still go see a physiotherapist. Secondly, I’m not an expert on this stuff, this is not professional advice. If you’re having muscle problems what you should really do is see a physiotherapist.

Just in case I’ve been in any way subtle – go see a physiotherapist, they are awesome. If you live near Stockport and Cheadle then I recommend Caroline.

In the meantime, here are the exercises to see you through.

Using these exercises

I use these exercises three times a day, along with some neck stretches. You can use as a set routine, like I do, or whenever you start to have trouble, but a routine is probably best.

Both exercises work through regular, repeat use, strengthening sets of muscles that will balance others over-developed by years of sitting at a computer. Repetition is important, so persist.

As with any exercise, don’t push yourself too hard. If these cause you pain then stop and go see a physiotherapist – who you were going to see anyway, right?

Shoulders back

Sit or stand with your arms hanging loose by your sides. If you have dumbbells then hold those, arms still hanging loose.

Pull your shoulders slowly back, paying particular attention to the muscles about two-thirds of the way up your spine, below the shoulder blades. Hold your shoulders there for a moment, and then slowly return them to their natural posture. Repeat a bunch of times.

Shoulders up

Sit or stand with your arms hanging loose by your sides. If you have dumbbells then hold those, arms still hanging loose. Pull your shoulders back, as in the previous exercise, but keep them back.

Slowly raise your shoulders, hold them like that for a moment, and then lower them. Repeat a bunch of times.

In the gym

Yes, I know I look like a pasty, sickly nerd, but I do also go to the gym. My work doesn’t involve much exercise, so I need to get it from somewhere.

If you know which muscles you need to strengthen then picking the right exercise can really help. Again, a good physiotherapist can help you with this. For the muscles addressed in the exercises above, do lat pulls and use the rowing machine.

I love the rowing machine. There’s something strangely soothing about its purring noise.

Last words

Hopefully those exercises will help you out. But seriously, the most useful thing you can possibly do for those poor aching muscles is to go see a physiotherapist, even if it’s only once, and get their professional advice.

Happy writing! And remember – go see a physiotherapist.

I’m off to look at cat gifs.

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7 responses »

  1. Pingback: Fighting writing pains – some exercises for the shoulders | Andrew Knighton writes

  2. Yoga, walks, and frequent breaks help me a bunch.

    The exercise described above is, for me, a heart opener yoga variation. Fantastic to do. Actually probably necessary for some degree of relief from computer work, reading, driving, texting, and even using the remote for the TV 🙂

    Seriously, the caved in upper body is the most common posture position in our country.

    When doing the exercises above, try inhaling as you pull your shoulders back. Relax but hold the general position on exhales, then press back with your arms (chest expansion) inhaling. Go any pace that’s good for you.

    Holding the arms in place is great. You can do little pulses as you breath, opening on the inhales. (smiles)

    • Thanks for the extra advice Adan. Though I’ve dabbled in yoga over the years I hadn’t thought about how it could apply to these exercises, but it’s a great way to make sure you’re dealing with the body as a whole, not just part of it.

  3. Pingback: Guest Post : Andrew Knighton – Writing With Your Body | Felipe Adan Lerma

  4. Pingback: Writing With Your Body | Andrew Knighton writes

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