Between stress from your job, lugging your purse around, lugging your kids around, sitting at a desk all day and overall poor posture, it should come as no surprise that you feel constant upper back pain, particularly in your neck and shoulders. And while it’s not exactly a shock, it’s still a real inconvenience to feel discomfort in that region of your body. Turns out you use your shoulders and neck more often than you think. Every time you stand up, turn to see something, give your kids a hug, pick up a plate, or lie down in bed you activate your neck and shoulders. So when they hurt, that pain can really cramp your style.

According to Everyday Health an “estimated two-thirds of American adults have experienced neck pain at some point.” The causes of neck and shoulder pain vary, and the way that you experience that pain varies as well. According to experts at The Cleveland Clinic, “pain in the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) is the most common cause of neck pain and usually occurs as a result of an acute or a chronic muscle strain.” They continue to explain that the shoulder is a very mobile body part, which means it’s very susceptible to injury. If you are one of the millions of people who experiences neck or shoulder pain (or both), then here are 7 potential reasons you’re experiencing that discomfort, and some tips to help you feel better.

Read Related: Back Up: How to Improve Posture & Not Screw Up Your Spine


1. Your Exercise Might be Doing Damage
Certain activities that involve physical contact in the neck or shoulder area (if you get hit, tackled, if you fall in an awkward position, etc.) can cause upper back pain. In addition, activities like swimming that involve you moving your neck from side to side repeatedly could result in neck pain, especially if you are out of shape or not used to that activity and those positions.


2. Poor Posture
We all tend to sit hunched over our desk, with an arched back and tension in our shoulders, especially after a long day. It’s totally normal, but it’s also really bad for your back, neck and shoulders. Sitting in that position for an extended period of time, and day after day, can take its toll on your body. And to add insult to injury, that poor posture isn’t exclusive to when you are sitting any more. These days we walk around staring down at our smartphones, which results in something experts call “text neck.” This condition is the pain and stiffness in your neck, shoulders and back (and potentially causing damage to the cervical spine) as the result of arching your back to stare down at your phone all day. New York spine surgeon, Kenneth Hansraj, suggests that “while it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and avoid spending hours each day hunched over.”


3. Sleeping in the Wrong Position, or with the Wrong Pillow
In addition to your posture during your waking hours, you also need to pay attention to your position while you sleep. According to Harvard Health Publications, “two sleeping positions are easiest on the neck: on your side or on your back. If you sleep on your back, choose a rounded pillow to support the natural curve of your neck, with a flatter pillow cushioning your head.”

4. Increased Stress
Emotional stress can lead to tense muscles, which often leads to a stiff neck and sore shoulders. If you feel pain in your neck and shoulder region, take a deep breath and assess whether you not you might be feeling a little anxious, overwhelmed or tense. Sometimes soothing physical pain is as simple as finding healthy ways to relieve emotional and mental stress.


5. Illness or Infection
Certain illnesses claim neck or shoulder pain as a key symptom, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, meningitis, viral infections (like the flu) and more. While more often than not, neck and shoulder pain is a simple annoyance that will go away with treatment and time, but if you are concerned or if the pain persists you should definitely seek medical care and an expert assessment through a physical exam. Better safe than sorry, especially when it comes to your well-being.


6. Your Handbag is Too Bulky and Too Heavy
Women everywhere: put your handbag down and listen up. That gorgeous new over-sized tote you carry everywhere might be doing major damage to your neck and shoulders. While it certainly seems necessary to carry everything you own in a massive bag that’s almost as big as you are, it’s a bad idea. Neal Elattrache, MD, a specialist at Los Angeles’s Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic, explains in an article O, The Oprah Magazine that “the 8 to 10 pounds of drag from the purse may cause problems in two ways…First, it pulls on a web of nerves that can cause aching or shooting pain from the neck down the arm. In addition, every time you sling your fashion statement over your shoulder, the upper back muscles that stabilize the shoulder blade must struggle to counterbalance that weight; eventually they get overworked until a yoga move or hug sends you into anguish.”

7. A Muscle Spasm or Cramp
It’s fairly common to get a kink or cramp in your neck, which is usually triggered by a quick turn, a stretch or sudden movement that uses your neck muscles. While it’s not unusual, it can still be really painful, but luckily there are easy and quick ways to relieve that pain and knead away the cramp, almost like a quick DIY massage. As Prevention magazine reports, Allyn Kakuk, DPT, a wellness physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic, offers some quick tips in this Prevention.com article.