In general, I find that a similar set of principles guides the resolution of most neck disorders: extension and positioning. Extension of the neck and spine is needed to alleviate compression, just as extension in the lower back is necessary to alleviate pain in the lower back. But even more important is the repositioning of the head, neck and shoulder alignment*. One thing in common with almost every one of the hundreds of neck cases I’ve worked on is that patients have had to reorient their basic head position to experience relief. Extension and alignment are the key to success.
The dominant form of misalignment of the head and neck is called anterior head displacement, which means that the head is in front of the torso and the spine. When that happens it triggers a whole host of events. Imagine the situation in which a bowling ball is balanced on top of a stick. As long as the ball is centered on the stick, all is good, but as soon as it gets a little off center, the force needed to hold the ball steady increases significantly. This is very similar to the relationship between the position of the head and the related stress on the neck.
The thing is, we really don’t know very much about where our head should be in space. The correct and incorrect alignment of the head and neck can be quite elusive, yet it really makes a difference. One of the principles you see with the head, neck and shoulders is that small movements can have big effects, for better or for worse. And realignment can be simple. I don’t know another joint that can so easily go from poor alignment to correct alignment, even when injured. The bad news is, we all have this bad alignment, but the good news is good alignment is easy.
Check out this short youtube for examples of correct and incorrect neck alignment.
Within the modern medical system, an X-ray or MRI is often used to determine the nature of the problem and the course of treatment and as it goes, not a lot of necks look good through these lenses. Even those necks that are mobile and pain-free may appear problematic. And the thing is, the AMA does not have a good answer for neck pain. Medication and surgery are the common treatments. Extension and repositioning are rarely considered viable options.
There are lots of reasons why neck alignment is so frequently compromised. There’s bending over the computer and other electronics devices. There’s driving in the car, gardening and doing homework. Not that we should stop doing these things, but rather, the question is, how do we maintain the correct head position while we’re doing what we do?
One secret to a healthy neck, and the most important thing to remember in terms of alignment is to pull the chin in. That’s where it all starts. Pulling in the chin works to extend the back of the neck and correctly position the head.
Practice this simple realignment and see what happens. And when I say practice, I mean do it again and again throughout the day until it begins to feel natural. So anything we can do to practice better alignment and positioning, or at least to be aware of our neck position – that’s where it starts. Awareness is key.
Our next blog will continue this focus on the neck with a description of specific exercises you can do to alleviate neck pain as well as offering additional ways to check and correct your alignment.
In the meanwhile, if you are experiencing neck stiffness or pain, schedule an appointment with Dorfman Kinesiology today. If you have already received a diagnosis from another practitioner and are interested in an alternative perspective or approach, give us a call. Feel Better Forever with Dorfman Kinesiology today.
* Although the position of the neck and shoulders are intimately related, I will focus mainly on the neck in this blog series and follow up with a future series on the shoulders.