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The most common cause of neck and shoulder pain is muscle tension in the neck and shoulders caused by static working positions and prolonged, uneven physical stress. Psychological factors such as stress or fatigue may also cause neck and shoulder pain. 

Tense and overstressed neck and shoulder muscles can also cause headache particularly in the back of the head, temples or forehead. Typically, this “tension headache” worsens towards the afternoon and can be alleviated by light exercise such as taking a walk. 

Neck and shoulder pain can sometimes be associated with numbness or pins and needles in the arms. These are signs of pressure on the nerve going to the upper limb. Neck and shoulder pain can also be associated with malocclusion (misalignment of the upper and lower teeth) or nocturnal bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth). 


  • Take breaks from sitting and static working positions at least once every hour. 
  • Be aware of your posture and working positions.
  • Increase the mobility of your upper back and neck by exercising. 
  • Do breathing exercises. 
  • You can also use heat therapy to try and alleviate muscle tension.

When should I see a doctor?

See a healthcare professional if:

  • your pain is caused by a trauma or an accident; 
  • your pain is accompanied by dizziness, nausea, vision problems, chest pain or balance problems;
  • your pain started suddenly and is associated with fever or poor general condition; or
  • your pain is intolerable and it developed rapidly.

When should you see a physiotherapist?

See a physiotherapist if:

  • you have pain that is not alleviated by self-care related to your working position or when sitting;
  • your pain is intermittent and has persisted for a long time; or
  • your pain is accompanied by numbness or pins and needles in the upper limbs.

Information source: The Finnish Medical Society Duodecim

FSHS Physiotherapist / 5 July 2022 

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