I suffered from right-sided shoulder and neck pain. For years. I had a constant ache that would worsen in certain positions, such as typing or sleeping on my right side. When the ache was severe, it would trigger headaches. Massage, stretching, topical balms, heat pads, massage guns, and red-light devices were all in my arsenal to alleviate the pain. You name it, I probably tried it.  

I figured my pain was related to several things that came with life: 

  • Being built funny – maybe I was still crooked from the scoliosis I had as a child?  
  • Stress – women are known to hold tension in their shoulders (it’s how we keep ourselves from strangling the person in front of us). 
  • Unsupportive pillows—I have bought at least ten different neck pillows, but none have provided adequate relief. 
  • An unsupportive mattress—hence, I splurged on a pricey memory foam mattress, which did improve my symptoms, albeit not completely.
  • Co-sleeping with my daughter, who likes to sleep (you guessed it) on my shoulder. As my mom has often pointed out, that one seemed like an obvious fix. However, my daughter has not yet gone through puberty and still loves me – so I am enjoying (and enduring) this as much as possible.   

After many years of managing my pain with band-aids, I discovered specific cervical neck stretches and exercises.  These worked brilliantly when I did them diligently. Note the “when I did them” clause.  I often stopped doing these weird-looking chin tucks when my pain improved. The pain always returned, though, because not only did I have weak neck muscles, but my entire postural and upper body muscles were horribly weak. Pathetic really.  I spent most of my day bent over the computer or cell phone and wore a white coat with weighed-down front pockets that pulled my shoulders into a slouch even more. Also, I hated doing upper-body exercises – push-ups, pull-ups, you name them, I sucked at them.   

After years of suffering, I finally sought the advice of my sister-in-law, Kathy, a physical therapist. (Doctors really are the worst patients.) Kathy taught me great stretches and exercises to improve my posture and upper body. It’s been three solid months of focusing on my upper body. I feel stronger, and my shoulder does not hurt—even without the chin tucks!

If you suffer from neck and shoulder problems, consider dedicating 2-3 months to your posture and back to see if it helps! Here are easy beginner-level exercises and stretches to get you started. As you get stronger, you can consider advancing your routine to incorporate pull-up bars or heavier weights. If you have severe neck or back symptoms, start a program with a trained instructor to ensure proper form and any modifications. 


  • Cervical neck exercises. These are a lifesaver to help relieve neck pain until you get the rest of your back/posture muscles stronger. Check out these great videos from Bob & Brad:
  • Foundational training. These are weird but effective exercises to strengthen your posture.
  • W – squeeze. 
    • Arms out in “Y” and then bring your arms down in a “W” shape, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 3 seconds, then release back to a “Y”. Repeat for 10.




    • Arm lifts. This is a great starting exercise! 
    • Using a 1-3 lb weight, you will move your arms upwards in a V-shape. You can do this with or without weights. 

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  • Tight chest muscles pull your chest forward, creating more of that slouched posture. You can open up your chest in a few ways:
    • Stretch band. You don’t need a fancy one or can even use a piece of rope you have at home.   


    • Floor chest stretch. Lie on your stomach, extend your right arm to the side, and keep your left arm bent in front (as if doing a push-up). Then, roll your body toward the right using your left arm. 



Massage ball:

  • Massage balls are cheap. You can get one from Amazon for 8-10 dollars. Find a sore spot and lay on it! That’s it! 


Daily Activity Modifications:  

Minor tweaks to your daily routine can go a long way to promote a stronger posture and back! 

  • Instead of sitting back in your chair, sit at the front of your chair. I sit for a large portion of the day, and sitting forward without using the back support is an easy way to engage my core and back muscles.  
  • Take a break from sitting. Get up and move around every hour. Set an alarm on the hour, march in place, do ten desk push-ups, and do ten desk triceps dips.  
  • Grab any opportunity to carry things! Added weight is a great way to build strength and load your bones!  

Here are some of my favorite products: 

Blue Rub by Doterra

Massage ball – you can get any brand from Amazon for around $8-10

Theragun – high-powered massage gun

Flexbeam – red light wrap

I am wishing you a pain-free life! 

For more useful information on functional holistic health, you can visit our FREE video library here.

About the Author:

Dr. Eri Shimizu is a board certified in Internal Medicine Doctor and certified through the Institutes of Functional Medicine. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Bioengineering from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and graduated summa cum laude from Creighton University Medical School. She completed her Internal Medicine residency at UCLA and worked at a Los Angeles county hospital. In 2012, she returned to Hawaii and served as a Hospitalist at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Maui is now home with her husband, two children, and a fighting fish named Rainbow.

Schedule a FREE Functional Medicine Health Consult with Dr. Eri.