Do you have a pain in the neck? Literally or metaphorically, physically or emotionally, managing neck pain can be a simple fix or something more comprehensive. In the first article of this series, “Our Mighty Duck! Quack! Quack! Quack! (How to Manage Neck Pain, Part 1) ” I elaborated on how our neck is heavily impacted by the idea of compensations. Compensate is defined as
There are a few factors that needs to be addressed when dealing with pain. A common description of neck pain is “tight” and “stiff”. The dreaded “knots” to the bottom neck. The occasional “kink” that slows life down and makes driving miserable. This pain in the neck is what people deal with until it gets worse or compounds into arm pain. Worse is where the quick fix or the chiropractic and masseuse is not doing the trick anymore.
The problem with neck pain is that there are many conditions that mimics or contribute to your nagging neck pain. Lets breakdown the components of a good neck care program: direct, indirect, and balance therapeutic exercises.
Direct care is working on the head and neck. Most direct neck care focuses where the pain is at. Lets stretch out the knots with a trapezius stretch. Hold it for 30 seconds. Repeat it over and over until it is gone. It feels so good that this technique must be the magic answer, however, you still have it. You search the internet for self massage with a tennis ball or some expensive contraption, but it does not do the trick over the long haul. An overlooked component of neck care is to address the front of the neck, the jaw, base of the neck, and upper neck region.
Self test to see if you need to work more than the kinks and knots within the neck
- Stand in the front of the mirror. Without drifting your head forward or backward, bring your ear towards your shoulder (do not shrug your shoulder) like talking on the phone. Notice how much motion you have. Repeat on the other side. If you feel tightness or have less than 45 degrees angle of neck. The first motion to lose from aging is sidebending of your neck. Do not lose this motion and test it from time to time.
- When there are “issues within the tissues”, working on them can be painful. Healthy tissues should not hurt when poked, pushed and pulled on. If the muscles is tender or sensitive, it needs hands on work. Perform the self-care at your own pace but do not give up on the exercises. The norm is for the tissues become less and less tender over time with these exercises.
Therapeutic Exercises and Self Hands-On Joint/Muscle Care
ARCing Chin Retraction: This is a common exercise that is prescribed during physical therapy. Here is my spin to this program to improve mobility to the base of your back neck. Theory and research studies have shown repetitively that this junction is crucial for head and torso integration (the ability for the neck/head to work with and without the trunk) like driving, pushing, pulling, and reaching to your left as you look over your right shoulder.
Sit on a hard surface chair with your feet supported. Bring your chin to your throat, like giving yourself a double chin. KEEP YOUR EYES FIXATED ON YOUR CHEST BONE. Raise your head back up to neutral. It is common to feel stiffness and pressure to the base of your neck. HOLD 10 seconds. Slowly bring your head back. It should not result in arm numbness and tingling, especially if it lingers past 3-5 minutes post exercise. REMEMBER: you should be looking down the whole time. Repeat 10 repetition every 3-4 hours. The more you sit the more this exercise will benefit you.
2-3 finger Rotation Range of Motion: This is an exercise design to keep your neck from losing its ability to turn.
Sit on a hard surface chair with your feet supported. Flex your head down and place 3 fingers under your chin. SLOWLY inhale deeply into your middle back. Turn your head to the left towards your armpit and place 3 fingers under the chin. Breath. Turn to your right and repeat with breathing. Perform this 5 repetitions or more if you sit longer than four hours at a desk/driving.
Skull to upper neck mobilization & Atlas mobilization with movement: the upper two segments of the neck (called C0 and C1) plays a crucial role in controlling head and body movement including our balance strategy. If this is dysfunctional, this can result in headache, dizziness, and chronic neck pain.
Skull to upper neck mobilization is down by taping two tennis ball together. Lay on your back and place the balls under the base of your skull, usually above your hair line. It is usually tender but feels good. Relax your chin down and breath into your lower pelvic region. If you can simultaneously tuck your tailbone/pelvic under you, you may get a bigger stretch and release effect. Stay here for 5-10 minutes. You may rock your chin side to side very slowly to work out the kinks even more.
Atlas mobilization with movement: This is a overlooked treatment by lots of practitioners. This segment plays a role in 50% of your neck rotation. When you have trouble driving, this is my first go-to treatment. Remember, this technique should not be painful at all and provide dramatic result!
Upper Neck “Melting” Sequence by Sue Hiltzmann @suehiltzmann does a fabulous job teaching a good upper neck self massage routine.
The follow-up article will include other direct head and neck care treatment ideas that most practitioners do not address. The list includes front neck, jaw, and our skull region. You can stretch out this idea by adding the shoulder into this direct care principle.
Indirect care is working on the rest of your body: torso, low back, pelvis, diaphragm, pelvic floor, glutes, and even the big toe. As you can see, there are too much information for this one article. The next article will delve more into how to assess and self manage these areas so compensations does not compound into a “pain in the neck”.
The last part of this series will address balance and our inner ear system that contributes to balance. When I get a client referred to me that has tried every medical treatment under the sun, this is my first go-to assessment. Most of the time, I am able to unmask a balance system issue.
If you are interested in a direct 1-on-1 consultation for a nagging neck pain or pain elsewhere, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your story and plan a program for a better future where you can drive or enjoy an evening with you love ones at dinner without turning your whole trunk.