Submitted by Dr. Jennifer Penrose for Penrose & Associates Physical Therapy

Have you ever had a slight pain from your shoulder to your neck but didn’t really think it was a big deal, especially if you knew it was because you slept awkwardly? Yes? I thought so. I hear this quite often from my clients when they first come in to see us. They’ll mention the annoying pain that’s going on in their shoulder or base of their neck. 9 times out of 10, they think it’s something that will “just go away” on its own.

But here’s the thing, it doesn’t always “just go away.” Think of your shoulders like this: Your neck sits on your shoulders and supports one of the most vital parts of your body, the skull and the brain. There are muscles in your shoulders that go up along your neck and can be related to pain. Now ask yourself this, do you still want to brush off that neck pain you’ve woken up with this morning? I thought not.

Has This Ever Happened To You?

Some of the main reasons as to why we shouldn’t brush off shoulder or neck pain is because we all have ways in which we make it worse. We don’t mean to, but sometimes our lifestyle gets in the way!  We carry a heavy bag on the same shoulder all the time for example.  Carrying a bag weighing 10 pounds or more can take its toll if it is done day after day, month after month. Try to evaluate all the postures you do all the time and the habits you have fallen into to see if anything could be causing the problem.

Maybe you’re a keen swimmer? I always recommend swimming as it’s great for your joints, however the type of swimming you do can sometimes have an effect on your body. If you like to swim in a front crawl position, then be aware of your neck. Turning your neck constantly, creating a repetitive motion can take its toll on your neck. This neck tension easily translates to your shoulders as pain and tightness. It’s sometimes possible to over-use muscles and tendons in the neck so take extra care. Next time you go swimming, try alternating your swimming type to a breast-stroke position.

It Can Happen With Movies, Tech or Books Too

Watching movies lately? If you’re looking at your TV, phone, or reading a book for a long period of time then you may start to feel the strain on your shoulders too. If you are in one position too long and you are looking up or slouched this will cause neck and shoulder pain.

How is Your Pillow?

penrose physical therapy bad pillow
Bad pillow position. Photo courtesy: Penrose & Associates Physical Therapy

How many of you have woken up to neck and/or shoulder pain, so much that you can’t physically turn your head? Me too. If this happens to you quite often, try changing your pillow to one that allows more support. This tends to be why we get pain when we sleep or when we wake up. If your neck doesn’t have the support for your head then your neck will feel as if it’s in an unnatural position and as a result, causes a stiff neck in the morning. You want support under your neck, but not too much and not too little.

So, we fit people to Pillowise, which means we measure your shoulder width, your neck circumference, and your neck height to help get you the “right” fit for your neck to keep you in neutral. Those three measurements are entered into the Pillowise website and then it shows us which pillow is the correct ft.  Then we have you lay on the pillow and actually look at you on the pillow to see if your neck stays in neutral. Sometimes we go up or down a size depending on how you look on the pillow and how you say it feels.

penrose physical therapy correct pillow
Correct pillow position. Photo courtesy: Penrose & Associates Physical Therapy

If you have a pillow with too little support, like a down pillow, you often are side bent too far down like I show in the picture. You want your pillow to be supportive, not too hard, soft but not too soft.  t is like Goldilocks and the three bears, you want it “just right.”

In Closing…

If you want some simple tips for neck pain please go and download our free tips report here. We will have a free neck and shoulder pain workshop coming up in November 2021 so please reach out if interested to attend.

The author, Jennifer Penrose, is a Physical Therapist and owner of Penrose Physical Therapy. If you have any questions about neck and shoulder pain, you can call on 360.456.1444 or email

“Stay Healthy South Sound” – Dr. Penrose interviews providers in the community, fitness experts, and patients about their journey with physical therapy at Penrose PT.  Please use this as a resource.

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