Shoulder Pain While Hiking? Learn How To Fix It!

by | Nov 9, 2018 | 0 comments

Shoulder Pain While Hiking? Learn How To Fix It!

Do you have shoulder pain while hiking? In this post, you’ll learn how o fix it by targeting the most common causes.  Hikers are particularly prone to problems in the mid-back that can result in headaches and shoulder muscle pain. Contributors to this discomfort are posture, pack fit issues, and even improper trekking pole height. Let’s look at some of the more common causes and how to fix it.

Causes of shoulder pain while hiking

Not many of us are immune to using computers and cell phones. With back posture using these devices, our head moves forward and the shoulders round. When the shoulders round forward, they stretch out the muscles between the shoulder blades and shorten the muscles on the front of the chest.

This reduces your ability to fully inhale and also causes tension in the muscles that attach from the shoulder blades to your head and neck. This can cause tension headaches along with the knots in your shoulders.

The same posture can happen with hiking. Having a poorly fit pack or heavy pack can cause the shoulder to round. Again, that rounded position will create tension in the muscles. That tension can compress nerves that lead to headaches and other aches and pains.

Look for the levator scapulae muscle in the diagram. It attaches to the top of the shoulder blade and the side of the neck. This muscle is basically an elevator for the shoulder blade, helping to pull it up, and also rotate it. Where that muscle attaches to the shoulder blade is the prime spot for knots.

Next, find the trapezius muscle. It occupies the space from your skull down to the start of your lower back! This muscle has lots of functions and is most often one that contributes to headaches.

Finally, the rhomboids. They attach from the shoulder blade to the spine. The rhomboids along with the middle and lower traps get stretched out. All of this leads to loss of proper muscle length and tension which creates a recipe for problems. Many of these muscles attach to the spine, so positioning or posture is important to keep the length and tension at the right level.


Improving your posture can help fix shoulder pain

When the head is forward, (think ears are in front of the shoulders), muscles like the levator and traps will tighten up. This can compress nerves leading to tension headaches or even tingling in the arms.

pec-minorThis reflexive muscle tightening is a natural response by the body. It helps to pull the head back over your torso, which generally improves your overall posture.

With a forward head position, there are compensations found on the front of the body as well.  The pec minor gets short and tight with rounded shoulders.

If the weight of the pack sits too much on the shoulders, the body will instinctively engage the upper traps and levator, which raises your shoulders.

That natural reaction leads to prolonged tension. It’s like being stressed about work or life, often we find our shoulders carry that stress. This is similar, except the stress is from a backpack and less so from life stress.

Learn to fix shoulder pain by addressing your posture

Think about having a long, tall spine at all times. Make sure you have a pack that allows the weight to largely be placed on the hips, not the shoulders. Everyone has a different percentage or theory, I like around 75-80% on the hips, the rest on the shoulder straps.

EB196164-D2B5-428E-B5EC-1D98780E5E51In the picture on the left, I’m standing tall, arms are resting at my side. This is an ideal posture for hiking and life. My ears are over my shoulders – this helps to keep the shoulders where they belong and not rounded forward.

My hands rest at my sides which helps clue you in on where the shoulders are positioned. If the shoulders are rounded, the hands land on the front of the leg, not the side.

On the right image, the head is forward and the ear is in front of the shoulder. This strains the muscles in the back of the neck which can cause tension headaches.

On the right image, my shoulders are rounded forward. You’ll also see that with my shoulders rounded forward, the hands also land more to the front of my legs. That’s an easy clue that your shoulders are rounded. When fatigue sets in posture goes right out the window.

Try this to help reduce muscle tightness and fix shoulder pain

We touched on pack fit already so let us move onto massage and stretching techniques. Using a massage ball, you can target the tight muscles to help to release the tightness. This along with being mindful of your posture is key for fixing shoulder pain.

I really like how they place the ball between the shoulder blade and the spine; work that area from the top of the shoulder blade to the bottom of the shoulder blade. This is ground zero for discomfort so remember that you are doing something good!

Follow that massage ball work with this handy stretch:

To address the pec minor muscle on the front of the chest, check out the video below. If the levator muscle is tender and painful, you can bet pec minor is too.

These are quick easy techniques that you can do while on the trail. Having a lacrosse ball with you is well worth its weight when it comes to caring for sore, tender muscles.

Give these massage and stretch techniques a try to help resolve your headaches and shoulder pains while hiking.


author avatar
Lee Welton