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How Do Uneven Shoulders Impact Your Back Muscles?

Did you ever notice a slight quirk in your posture as you stand upright in front of the mirror, or perhaps a minor imbalance in your shoulders? If yes, you are not alone. 

Uneven shoulders are a common culprit behind your body’s poor balance, and they can occur due to several severe to minor reasons. 

People with certain neurological conditions and particular lifestyle factors are more likely to encounter this issue. 

Regrettably, uneven shoulders may adversely affect your shoulder blades and back muscles and cause serious issues if left untreated. 

Below, we’ll expand on the topic and explain what practices might help reduce the associated pain. 

Uneven Shoulders

 

What Are Uneven Shoulders? 

As the name implies, uneven shoulders occur when our shoulders do not align with one another. 

For instance, you might notice that one shoulder is slightly higher than the other as you look in the mirror. 

This may occur due to a minor reason like carrying a heavy handbag or slouching while using a laptop or a more severe problem that affects the spine (more on this below)

The consequences vary from mild discomfort to intense, throbbing pain. 

However, thankfully, it is a treatable condition, and a few lifestyle changes can help bring the shoulders back to their original position.  

The Impact of Uneven Shoulders on Back Muscles

To understand how uneven shoulders affect our back muscles, we first need to comprehend the connection between the two.

Cleveland Clinic mentions that our back muscles help us move our bodies, including the neck, head, shoulders, legs, and arms. They allow us to turn our heads, bend, twist, sit, and stand.

This connectivity makes it obvious that an imbalance in our shoulders would also likely impact our backs.

When our shoulder becomes uneven, it creates a muscle imbalance in the back. 

The higher shoulder strains the back muscles, and the lower one deteriorates them due to underuse. 

This causes fatigue and tension on one side and weakness on the other. 

Consequently, this creates postural problems and back pain, affecting overall mobility. 

Common Causes of Uneven Shoulders

Surprisingly, many people encounter uneven shoulders, but the underlying causes vary from person to person. 

Below, we’ll explore some common reasons that might lead to shoulder imbalance. 

Poor Posture 

Poor posture is one of the most common reasons behind uneven shoulders. We often sit in incorrect positions while binge-watching our favorite series or working without even realizing it. 

Research shows that our skeletal and muscular structures often develop improperly due to bad posture habits we tend to adopt. 

As a result, our muscles become weak and tight, leading to uneven shoulders. Rounded Shoulder Posture (RSP) is a typical example. 

It tightens our chest muscles and elongates the shoulder muscles, making them uneven. 

Neurological Conditions

Certain neurological issues can also be the reason behind this discomforting problem. 

Unfortunately, neurological disorders are pretty common, affecting 1 in 6 people worldwide

A study by the National Library of Medicine highlights that conditions that impact the nerves often lead to the sensations of unease in shoulder muscles. 

The result? One shoulder sits lower or higher than the other. 

Nerve damage may happen due to an injury. However, certain neurological problems can also be a contributing factor. They include but aren’t limited to the following

  • A pinched nerve 
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spinal muscular atrophy 
  • Muscular dystrophy 

Scoliosis

According to the Mayo Clinic, Scoliosis causes the spine to curve sideways. This condition can also cause an imbalance in the shoulders. 

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons mentions that around 2-3% of people in the US are affected by this condition. Individuals aged 10-15 years are more likely to suffer from it. 

Generally, people with this issue use a spinal brace that gradually fixes their spine and brings it to the optimal position. 

However, health professionals recommend surgery when this treatment fails to resolve the issue. 

Sedentary Lifestyle

Lack of physical activity and sitting for long hours limits our blood flow. Over time, this increases muscle tension and takes a toll on flexibility. 

As a result, you may encounter an uneven shoulder. 

It is worth noting that sedentary work habits also lead us to develop incorrect postures that place stress on our shoulders. 

So, this could be another factor leading to an imbalance in your shoulders. 

Preferring a Dominant Side

This is a common and relatively less talked about reason behind uneven shoulders. 

Left-handed and right-handed people have a dominant side without even noticing. 

For instance, a right-handed person is more likely to have their right side assertive. As a result, muscles on that side become tighter over time, leading to an uneven shoulder. 

The Journal of Athletic Training research found that postural asymmetry was common in athletes

For instance, people who played sports like baseball and tennis that involved overhead motions had a dominant and non-dominant side. 

As a result, their shoulder blade was more rotated toward the dominant side, heightening the risk of developing an uneven shoulder. 

Therefore, sports or activities involving excessive arm use can create shoulder problems. 

Stress

Although no evidence highlights stress as a direct contributor to uneven shoulders, the problems arising from stress might eventually lead to it. 

For instance, the American Psychological Association mentions that our muscles tense up during stress. Ongoing stress can henceforth tighten our muscles and lead to an imbalance in our shoulders. 

Injury 

This is a rather straightforward reason. An injury can affect our ligaments, muscles, and bones in the shoulder area. As a result, you may develop an uneven shoulder. 

Injury-related shoulder imbalances typically affect athletes participating in overhead games like tennis and basketball. 

Treating Uneven Shoulders

Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, a few methods may help reduce the risk and alleviate the pain associated with uneven shoulders. So, let’s dig right in. 

Exercise 

The Journal of Research in Exercise Rehabilitation mentions that corrective exercises can help minimize pain and fix uneven shoulders. 

Therefore, there’s no reason not to incorporate exercises into your daily routine. 

Generally, a set of exercises that involve muscular development and stretching will do. 

You can begin with Yoga because it targets the major areas like back, and shoulders. If, however, you look for specific shoulder stretches, these might help. 

  • Cross arm stretch. Extend your arms across the chest, and try touching the opposite shoulder's back. Then, consider switching the sides. This exercise will help you reduce anterior and posterior shoulder pain. 
  • Doorway stretch. Position yourself in a doorway and grab each side just below the shoulder. Gently lead forward and put some weight on the shoulder. Make sure you keep your back straight while doing so. 
  • Shoulder stretch. Take a towel and hold each end with your hands. Now, position it behind your back. Gently pull the towel upward with your upper hand. Stay in this position for 15-20 minutes. Once done, consider switching to the other side. 
  • Fix Your Posture

    As discussed earlier, uneven shoulders often stem from poor posture. 

    The issue has become more prevalent in the office and work-from-home lifestyle since they’re primarily about being tied to our desks. 

    Make sure your workspace is ergonomic. For instance, your PC must be at eye level, your feet must be flat on the floor, and the chair must provide support. 

    Besides, avoid the urge to slump while working on your PCs and take short breaks to stretch and reset your posture. 

    Try Home Remedies 

    Soaking in lukewarm water is a great practice to alleviate pain. You can also apply heating pads and cold compresses to reduce inflammation and muscle tension. 

    Although these methods may not help treat the uneven shoulder, they work well to minimize the pain. 

    That’s a Wrap

    Our shoulders play a vital role in maintaining our body’s balance. Uneven shoulders can lead to tension, weakness, and discomfort in our back. 

    However, a problem is only as big as our willingness to solve it. 

    With minor changes in your lifestyle - from maintaining a good posture to exercising – you’ll give your shoulders and back muscles the support they deserve. 

    If the pain persists despite adopting healthy habits, we recommend consulting a health practitioner and having them observe your shoulders to figure out the underlying cause. 

    FAQs

    Can Uneven Shoulders Cause Muscle Imbalance? 

    Yes, uneven shoulders create a muscle imbalance in the shoulders and back. That’s primarily because a few muscles get overworked while others remain underused. 

    Over time, this causes postural problems, pain, and discomfort. 

    What Muscles Are Affected by Uneven Shoulders? 

    Uneven shoulders affect numerous muscles in our bodies, including scapular rotators, rotator cuff, rhomboids, and pectorals, to name a few. 

    It is worth noting that the affected muscles vary depending on the specific underlying condition in each individual. 

    Can Uneven Shoulders Cause Back Pain?

    Yes, uneven shoulders can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain. 

    When our shoulders are improperly aligned, it strains our back muscles, leading to lower and upper back pain. Therefore, correcting the shoulder imbalance is critical to relieve the associated pain.

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