Monica’s Go To Tension and Pain Relief Strategies

No Gym Required

The feeling that muscles are tense, stiff, or painful can be present for many reasons, such as general back and neck pain all the way to conditions like osteoarthritis. Most often these feelings of tension come and go with different activities or as conditions settle. Sometimes though they stick around and the usual things that work for you aren't working anymore. That's where these contraction-against-resistance activities may come in useful.

Not About Strength

To be clear, these strategies are not about strengthening. Most of the time these tensions and pains are not the result of a lack of strength. Though it can be hard to pinpoint a specific cause, that doesn't mean they can't be effectively addressed.

30 to 45 Seconds, Maximum Contraction

Except when applied to the neck muscles, the goal is to engage a lot of different muscles all and once and work them without moving your joints through a large range of motion.

This can be done either with heavy resistance, like weights or a band, or complete resistance, like a wall or a desk. You can use anything at hand as long as it's stable and secure.

No Upper Limit

The idea is to temporarily increase the tone of the muscles that feel tense. By using an active contraction you physiologically engage a lot of muscles, and when you stop they relax. When they relax you can get a good sense of the contrast between holding a contracted state and not holding that state.

Think of these strategies as prescriptive. Use them for a short time for a specific reason to see if they help change the pain or tension you are experiencing.

There's no upper limit on how many you can do, but they should be done without pain.

I've included some examples of activities you can try today. Try to start the upper body activities with your shoulder blades contracted together at the back.

Bring shoulder blades together at the back to start off the upper body activities.

Weighted Shoulder Shrugs

  • Try a weight you might think is a little heavier than you can handle.
    • You might be surprised how much you can lift.
    • You want to engage the big shoulder muscles as much as possible.
  • Bring your shoulder blades together at the back.
  • Keep your head and neck neutral (neither looking up or down)
  • Direction of shrug: Bring your ears to your cheekbones.
    • This will help stop you from compressing the base of the neck.
  • Control the action on the way up, and the way down.
  • See how many you can do before your shoulders start to feel tired, then add a couple more.
    • You can take small breaks if you split the repetitions into sets. The standard example is 3 sets of 10, but you have to experiment with how much is enough for you.

Push and Pull

  • Bring your shoulder blades together at the back.
  • Keep your head and neck neutral (neither looking up or down)
    • Push hands together.
    • Pull hands apart
  • You can use a towel, or resistance band to pull, or some soft object between your hands to push.
  • Adjust the height of your elbows as needed to accommodate for pain or discomfort.
  • Repeat if needed.

Leg Abduction and Adduction

  • These can be done seated, or lying down and targets the legs, glutes, abdomen and back.
  • Wrap a strong resistance band, or belt, around your legs and secure
    • Try to open your legs against that resistance.
  • Put a yoga block, or some other object like a towel or ball between your legs.
    • Try to close your legs against that resistance.
  • Adjust your back and neck as needed to accommodate for pain or discomfort.
  • Repeat if needed.
Bring your legs together against an object such as a towel, ball, pillow, or yoga block.
Make sure your head, neck and lower back are comfortable. Use full or heavy resistance.
Use a belt to provide full resistance or a heavy band that provides strong resistance.

Other Suggestions


These images are suggestions of things you can try, but feel free to look on the internet for more positions. Remember the idea is to engage many muscles with a long and strongly resisted contraction or use slow and controlled resisted movements without putting your joints through a large range of motion.

Wall Push Up


Standing push ups allow you to control the angle. Go slow and control the movement in both directions.

Chair Push Up


Use your desk chair arms to control a push up, and lower down. Take your feet off the floor to make it harder.

Desk Push Up


A desk gives you more angle than a wall and is a good progression. Make the movements slow and controlled.

Wall Angels

Bend knees. Back of head, low back, shoulder blades and wrists against the wall. Static holds in each position, or move from one position to the other keeping against the wall.




External Rotation

External Rotation - push fist into wall. Use barrier like a towel or pillow as needed.





Extension: Push elbow into wall. Use barrier like a towel or pillow as needed.