Let me convince you to SEE the importance of a healthy neck.
As I understand more about the neck and the importance of its good function I believe I can convince you that some more attention, actually daily attention, to the neck is an excellent idea.
Of course one of the main purposes of the neck is to hold the head in position but remember your head holds the brain and many sensory structures such as the eyes and ears. Neck pain disrupts your senses. Forward head posture changes many things regarding our movement as sensory input shapes our motor system. Movement accuracy can be compromised if the sensory input is.
I’ve posted a blog on the neck in both 2016 and 2017, so having Jon McComb request the topic of necks for my next appearance on his radio show got me thinking as to the importance of repeating and explaining the message of the importance of “neck hygiene.”
Over half of us (54%) have experienced neck pain in the last 6 months. (Cote, P et al 2000)
The neck bones are technically called the cervical spine or cervical vertebrae. The C1-C7 references the order of the vertebrae from top to bottom. The movements of the head and neck have a complicated relationship with our body. There is often a strong connection between neck pain and dysfunction, and shoulder pain and dysfunction. Without going too far down this complicated path let me ask you this:
“If you were given a nice car in your teens and told it’s the only car you would ever have, what would you do with it?”
Answer: Take care of it I hope!
Do you think of your neck like this?
What does a healthy neck look and move like?
The movements of flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation of the cervical spine are dependent on many factors that can change within life: environment (posture, sitting, electronics), role models, (parents and siblings), age, injury, personality, sense of self, and stress.
I’ve enjoyed some sessions lately with local Feldenkrais practitioner Janet Willson of Uplift Studio. Janet shares, “Most of us have the capacity as young people to move with ease (use ourselves globally), as one unit rather than a sum of parts. Over time, life (in our western world) acts upon us to increasingly limit our movements. We think of this as aging but a lot of this is unneccessary and can be regained. Her methods have taught me a lot about how my movement today is a reflection of so many factors in my life including stress. Slowing down and spending more time on self care is my big take-away. I feel it’s kinda like this happiness quote: It’s not easy to find happiness (or good movement) in ourselves and it is not possible to find it elsewhere. (Quote from Agnes Repplier)
You have to do the work
Neck pain or not, I think it’s important to realize that your neck needs work. Neglecting this part of your body will make it a lot harder to recover from any injury that you may sustain. My previous blogs are full of some great ideas for neck hygiene – that information has been out there for a few years so what you need to do is available to you.
Neck pain is complicated because….
One of my favorite sayings currently is, “It’s never one thing.” This is very true when talking about the neck (cervical spine) because how it moves is related to so many issues. The condition and movement of the thoracic and lumbar areas of the spine, and the condition and function of all the muscles affecting them play a role.
There are degenerative forces to your neck that can aggravate it or make the injury/pain increase over time. Often its repeated exposure to lower forces, repetitive movements, aging, or static postures over time that lead to problems as the stress tolerance on your neck exceeds its capacity.
So you see it’s not just falls and accidents (high force exposure) that give you neck pain, but if you unfortunately add a sports injury or car accident onto an underlying degenerative neck and you may have yourself a BIG pain or problem in the neck. Dare I mention improper attention to neck posture and neck position when exercising here? This can be a big contributor to your neck issues.
“When looking to the right do we just move our neck or can we optimize our whole self to turn from the ground and feet up?” Who knows what is right or optimal? I suggest we don’t know, and we are not doing it right! ~ Sheila
It’s not just your cervical spine but also the muscles involved to support and stabilize the head that contribute to your neck health. Working to improve neck posture daily is needed to attenuate further changes and to minimize the overuse and overload of the stabilizing muscles.
In my experience many folks want to exercise but reach limitations with movement because their underlying accumulative neck issues have not been worked on and resolved to a point where exercise can be executed safely. An increase on the pain scale, or a headache that may not be directly attributed the exercise program, may in fact be a result of trying to add strength to a body that simply defaults to it’s weakest link during the movement. In an effort to improve fitness we see or feel a setback.
When programming for a client like this we have to modify their program to avoid any movements that would aggravate or flare their imbalance. Although this can be done, it creates a limiting factor in overall fitness results. Committing to the work that has to be done to make progress is where most folks slide. If a person is not prepared to devote the time needed to complete simple effective release and stretching work, no progress is made.
A little Anatomy
The primary neck active stabilizers of the neck that support it in all planes of movement are called the Deep Neck Flexors. (DNF) “The DNF are most active in the ‘chin tuck’ or cranio-cervical flexion, followed by cervical flexion, and cervical rotation. (-2) The activity of the DNF is decreased or delayed in people with neck pain and postural change, such as forward head posture.
“So if the head is in a forward head posture just think about how decreased your peripheral vision has become. This could present many problems when you think about it from a focus, balance, and safety perspective.” ~ Sheila
“The statistics on neck pain would be higher if we tracked low intensity or low disability pain”, states Dr. William J Hanney, Associate Professor at the University of Central Florida. He adds, “Exercise is a powerful tool in the treatment of neck pain.”
Over time the muscles involved around the neck atrophy (go to sleep) and get thick and fatty. This leads to decreased activity of the deep neck flexors, and an increased activity of the superficial neck muscles (accessory muscles). So some muscles get weak, thick and turn off, and others become over active trying to protect you from a catastrophic collapse!
While listening to his presentation last July at the (NSCA) National Strength and Conditioning Association’s National Conference I felt myself smiling inside because he said this: “Research is strong that exercise should be done for improvement and not avoided. Neck pain patients perceive their pain to be debilitating. Education is needed.” This is great news for me to share with everyone.
What to do?
Neck issues can be resolved with a concerted effort get on top of them. Develop a regular or daily routine I’ll call “Neck Hygiene”.
Addressing muscle length restrictions is the first priority. Release the tight areas in the muscles and fascia. This means rolling with a ball, stretching and actually moving your neck through joint (articular) rotations in a pain free range. Second in the order of improvement would be working to obtain some deep local stability of your neck. Getting those deep neck flexors working again. As mentioned above, neck issues often involve shoulder issues so obtaining control of the shoulder blades (axio-scapular) in different planes would be next.
Neck training has the potential to reduce neck pain and decrease the risk of further injury. Seeking professionals to help you is crucial to your success. Don’t settle for a life with a pain in the neck. Enlisting professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, osteopaths, and personal trainers would be money well spent to get your neck to where is should be.
It’s never one thing
Chronic neck pain can really impact one’s life on a lot of levels. Mostly I have talked about the anatomical side of things but know that neck issues can impact you on a psychological and social level as well. Addressing stress levels if applicable (who doesn’t?) is important as they can affect the disorder and potentially affect the recovery.
In a nut shell
Maintain or regain range of motion with release work to the tight muscles. Stabilize your shoulder girdle and work on your strength. There is huge value in improving your neck posture. The computers and aging are not going away – your neck pain can though.
Continue to address your personal stress levels. Appreciate we all struggle in our human experience called life. Strength serves a purpose both inside and out.
Inform, Instruct, and Inspire @ it’s time! Fitness Results.
Written by: Sheila Hamilton. Research from Andrea Brennan Copyright Oct 2018
Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation: David Joyce
Chapter 19 : The Athletic Neck p 246 (-1), 238 (-2),
My notes on neck pain from the NSCA National Conference : Indianapolis July 2018
Exercise Considerations for Individuals with Neck Pain : NSCA National Conference Presentation and slides from: Dr. William J Hanney : Associate Professor University of Central Florida
The Science of the Somatosensory System: Slides from NSCA National Conference Presentation: Dr. Emily Splichal (-3)
Conversations with Janet Willson: http://www.upliftstudio.ca/
Movement System Impairment Syndromes of the Extremities, Cervical, and Thoracis Spine
Shirley Sahrmann and Associates Copyright 2011 Pages: 51-113
(Erik E Swartz,* R. T Floyd,† and Mike Cendoma‡ J Athl Train. 2005 Jul-Sep; 40(3): 155–161. PMCID: PMC1250253PMID: 16284634 Cervical Spine Functional Anatomy and the Biomechanics of Injury Due to Compressive Loading)
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