Neck pain is one of the more common reasons that someone may come in for therapy. Often it is the dull, achy general pain that occurs more at the end of the day. When I hear that, I think that it may not be a disfunction in the structure of the body, but simply that the muscles have been working hard all day and they are a little tired and sore. If a muscle is contracting constantly, it has a reduced capacity to bring in adequate Oxygen and ability to remove the muscle waste byproducts, which in turn does not allow the muscle fibers to repair themselves. Having this occur over a long period of time can cause many issues which ultimately result in symptoms like neck pain, headaches, dull achy pain to the arms, nerve compression and joint issues and sharp pain between the shoulder blades.
I have talked in the past about the importance of adapting your environment (work or home) to your balance position. For example, when sitting in front of a computer, having feet in front, good pelvic balanced position, finding the center of your torso balancing (so that you’re not falling forward or back), then doing the same with the head (making a nodding movement to find the point when your head does not fall forward or back). When you find this general balanced position, then you place your computer screen in a position where you can see your screen comfortably. Often this involves raising your screen up to eye level and about 2 feet or so away from you (a glare protector is good as well) so that you can see the screen and the font easily. Then you can place the keyboard at belly level so when you type, your elbows are back allowing the shoulders to stay back and open.
Like any position change, this will feel weird at first, but trusting that you have a good balanced position will make a huge difference in the amount that your neck and back muscles need to work, allowing them to bring in oxygen and get rid of the CO2 so they are healthy and happy. The important thing to be aware of, is the reduction of pain and other symptoms. That is the ultimate reward for the body, and the body needs rewards to stay in a new position.
I find more and more that the pain is never where the original dysfunction is. I find that the pelvis is the center of the universe posturally. At least 8/10 times, when some has neck pain or similar it is simply because the muscles are working hard to correct the head position. For example, many times, a client’s pelvis may be raised on the right side, the body will attempt to corrcct that by pulling the torso to the right when sitting or standing. If you try leaning to the right, you will notice that your left shoulder raises and your head falls to the right. There is a sensor in each ear that ensures that if this occurs, muscles will tighten to make sure that the head is (as close as possible) rebalanced so it is level with the horizon. As above, when you are leaning to the right, your left neck muscles will tighten to pull your head straight. Very often you can’t tell that this is all going on because all that the brain is concerned with is that the head is now straight, no matter what unbalance and compensation is going on farther down in the neck and low back.
These are all side to side compensations. Now imagine that you are leaning forward on the computer working. Now your back neck muscles are working as you head is in a forward position and they are attempting to level your head on a side to side orientation. If they are doing this all day, they will become very tired and cranky causing the neck pain/headaches/arm aches/upper back pain.
So when someone comes in with neck pain, I often start by checking to see if the pelvic bones are balanced and getting an idea of the whole picture, then working up. Sometimes a person can get away with this for a while, but something very simple like a move in the wrong direction or sleeping in a strange position can set it off.
Good posture, balance, flexibility, and strength are the key to avoiding a lot of pain and dysfunction. It’s good to start from the bottom and work up to the top. To cap it all off, our heads are extremely heavy and we’re not doing out neck muscles any favors by making them hold up our heads in bad positions.