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How To Reduce & Manage Neck and Shoulder Pain for Developers

After weeks and months of programming, why do my Neck/Back/Shoulders feel horrible? They feel like there is a vice grip pinching the nerves and giving me this horrible headache, making me irritable, impatient and downright grumpy!

As a developer, there is a 99.999999% chance you spend a signficiant portion of your life working with a computer. There is also an equally high probability that at some point or currently, you have experienced back, neck and shoulder pain.

Throughout the course of my own life as a developer and as an avid adventure sports enthusiast, I have also struggled and then overcome these pains. In this post, I will share a handful of learnings that have enabled me to live a painfree life.

Neck - Back - Shoulder Pain Root Cause Analysis

Often times unseen, the human body experiences pain for very real, mechanical reasons. I have come to understand that the pain cycle begins when tendons & muscle groups shorten. Once a group of tendons shorten, they begin to pull on the connected bone structure. If this process becomes too extreme, the bones of our body will be pulled out of their anatomically correct posture and will then themselves pull on nerve tissue. It is this process of nerves being pulled on that causes pain.

The trapezius muscle is the big diamond shaped muscle that starts at the top of your neck and runs down the back to slightly passed the bottom of the shoulder blades.

Frequently, people rely too much on their upper-trapezius (tight & contracted) and an under-developer lower trapezius muscle (loose & elongated).

Now let’s combine our learning.

  1. Shortened tendons in the chest, neck and shoulders
  2. Overly tight upper trapezius
  3. Overly loose lower trapezius muscles

Results in…

A constant forward pulled posture that tugs on multiple nerve centers in the back, neck and shoulders, which then results in…


A Two Step Solution

Now that we have identified the root causes of our pain, lets look at a two part solution.

Step 1 - Elongate and then expand the tendons & muscles in our chest, neck and shoulders.

Tendons are by design built to expand and contract. If a tendon is never expanded, after a prolonged period of no-expansion, the tendon will contract its potential for expansion. Our goal here emerges as the process of stimulating these tendons to stretch, to elongate and to begin to have more of a normalized expand/contract life-cycle. We do this primarily with stretches and the the use of a lacrosse ball to perform self-massage. Check out this video to watch the 3 simple stretches that I complete almost daily.

Step 2 - Contract the muscles of the lower trapezius while relaxing the upper trapezius. Utilize the blackburn exercise for this.

Easier said than done, something magical will happen to your nervous system the first time you get this exercise right. When it happens, tension (mechanical load) will be taken off the upper trapezius and more evenly distributed to the lower trapezius muscle. Then, the body will begin to experience near-immediate relaxed-ness.

This relaxedness will only be a small percentage of what is possible, think like 10-20% efficient. 50-75% efficiency comes from developing a daily routine of this exercise and can easily be achieved after doing these exercises 3-5 times a week for 3 to 4 weeks, a very nominal time commitment for a significant longterm benefit to your mind and body.


For this technique to work, you must contract the lower trapezius while relaxing the upper trapezius.

It is absolutely critical to relax the upper trapezious during this process. The inbalance in tension and muscle density between the upper and lower trapezious is a major contributing to factor to why you experience neck/back/shoulder pains. The process of removing pain induced conditions is really centered around restoring a working balance between the upper and lower trapezius muscles. It takes time, practice and patience to contract the lower trapezius while relaxing the upper trapezius. In the video, I demonstrate relaxing the upper trapezius muscle using feedback from my wife, if you can find someone to help you calibrate your feedback as I demonstrate, it will really improve outcomes.

In Summary

  • Pain in the neck/back/should exists for real mechanical reasons
  • These mechanical reasons begin with the tightness of muscles/tendons in the chest, neck and shoulders
  • These mechanical reasons then get exercerbated by inbalances between the upper and lower trapezius muscles
  • Solution Step 1. use the lacross ball et all to help certain tendons elongate
  • Solution Step 2. use the blackburn exercise to contract lower trapezius while simultaneously relaxing the upper trapezius
  • Develop a habit of doing this exercise combination for 10-20 minutes a session, 3-5 times a week
  • Like any mechanical problem, the root cause of your back/neck/shoulder pain can be fixed.
  • Enjoy a new pain free version of you!

Necessary Tools

  1. Lacrosse balls, 2 for $11 on Amazon

  2. Any yoga mat


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