Shoulder tension - what exactly is it?

Shoulder tension – why do our shoulders feel so tight?Neck And Shoulder Pain

Shoulder tension is by far the most common complaint we treat at Fulham Massage & Wellness. Long working hours, stressful London commute journeys and busy life schedules add stress and tension to our muscles. You could say it’d be hard to find many people in this city who would claim to feel tension free. Tolerating tension is all too common as it becomes part of our “normal” wellbeing. It’s not until muscle tension develops into pain or something more severe that we react and take action.

What exactly is tension in the shoulders? What physiological change happens in our muscles that we call tension?

Our muscles consist of fibres. The fibres slide and glide on top of each other creating physical movements. For example, the fibres in our shoulder muscles switch on when we raise our arms, turn our 393px Trigger pointshead, carry a handbag - even when we run and walk. They switch on a lot during the day (and night as well!) with the many repetitive movements that our day requires. The quantity of repetition and weight loading of these movements can affect the ability of the muscle fibres to switch off or it can become impaired. Add in stress hormones generated during worrying or feeling mental pressure and these fibres can become permanently hyperactive – increasing the severity of the problem.

Eventually, muscle fibres stop responding to the brain’s signal which says “relax” or “switch off” - if they stay permanently contracted or active. That’s when small knots or trigger points get created in our muscles. Knots and adhesions disrupt the sliding movement of the muscle fibres to turn smooth gliding motion into jerky or sticky jumps in movement. Restricted motion creates friction and micro-tears in the fibres, leading to inflammations and injury threat if left untreated.

Most clients that come to see us for a pain relief have already reached the point when shoulder tension accumulates enough to the level that the tissues become painful and sore. Massage works effectively in reversing tension damage and bringing length back into muscle fibres.

What impact does shoulder tension have on our daily life and how can you spot the visual symptoms?

The most common visible symptoms of excessive tension in the shoulders are:

  • Elevated shoulders – under excessive and prolonged tension, our muscles get shortened (like a shoelace with knots tied on them becomes shorter) and therefore the gap between our neck and shoulder becomes significantly smaller. It can happen on both sides or on one side. We usually observe that the dominant arm/shoulder often sits higher than the other side, simply because our dominant side works harder.
  • Hunched back – if one group of muscles in our shoulder area starts to struggle, fatigue and becomes “knotted”, other surrounding muscle groups come to the rescue to help with movement. Usually our chest muscles and front of shoulders take over the responsibility, making us look hunched and slouched. This imbalance in the upper body is also called upper cross syndrome.
  • Limited neck movement – all muscles around our shoulders have a direct or indirect impact on our head and neck movement. When tension presents in our shoulders, it reduces our ability to turn or tilt the head. An easy way to notice neck movement restriction is if we must turn our body in order to look behind us. 

Are you feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders?

Ishoulder pain tension rebecca fox origf you’re feeling tiredness, irritation and a lack of concentration, it can be as a result of your brain being starved of oxygen and nutrients that normal blood flow delivers. Shoulder and neck tension restricts a physical range of motion and the circulation of blood into and out of your head. Shortened muscle fibres also feel “heavier”, weighing down our upper body. People report feeling more stressed, overwhelmed and easier to snap when tension is present. In addition, our clients often report sleeping problems – finding it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Shoulder tension can have an impact on other body parts too like the arms, neck, back, hips and even legs. It has to do with a fascia (a cob-web structure that surrounds our body and its organs). If the fascia or connective tissue is limited in one area, it can develop a spiraling effect bringing imbalance to other parts of our body.

Muscle tension is such a common complaint at Fulham Massage & Wellness, we have invested in mastering our massage skills to help relieve discomfort by applying techniques to loosen up and lengthen the shortened tissues. This increases blood flow to the areas which were lacking nutrients, helps get rid of the “knots” and facilitate the healing. When this is achieved and the tension and inflammation reduce, we then begin the correction phase to teach the muscles to work properly and help them stay healthy for longer.

Here are our most efficient massage techniques that help to reverse shoulder tension: 

  • Shoulder pull


  • Stripping of the trapezius muscles


  • Trigger point release


  • Kneading (with fists and knuckles)

1 shoulder

  • Soft tissue release techniques (including rotator cuff)


We never just treat the shoulders on their own, as it is crucial to integrate and loosen up the neck, head, arms, chest and whole back at the same time to bring the best results in pain management and take the pressure of all other muscle groups that had to work harder in order to assist tense shoulders.

For further questions or to book your appointment, call us on 02037949760 and we will be delighted to help you.

Written by: Agata, Fulham Massage & Wellness

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