According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 20% of adults report that they experience some degree of neck pain. Many of us will encounter at least one bout of neck stiffness or discomfort in our lifetime, whether from a bad night of sleep or poor posture from computer work. Recently, I’ve heard a cascade of complaints from friends and clients that their necks are bothering them and it makes my insides squirm to see them in discomfort. Let’s try to change that, shall we? Here’s my experience with neck pain and why I empathize, followed by at-home remedies and an upper cervical chiropractor’s expert advice.
Benefits of Natural Posture
As a young child, I thought it was normal that I could tilt my head ever-so-slightly and relax my gaze into double vision. It wasn’t until high school, body bent forward over text books and SAT-prep exams, that I realized I couldn’t see clearly when I shifted my visual attention from close to far (ex: it was difficult to read the time on the clock when I looked up from studying). I thought I needed glasses. It turned out that my vision was just fine; however, I was diagnosed with a “convergence insufficiency.” This condition, while minor, has caused me to tilt my head to reduce eye strain since childhood.
In a perfect world, I should be maintaining a straight gaze and posture, and forcing my eyes to work together to see clearly. But our bodies LOVE to be lazy. Instead, I’ve compensated and caused myself neck problems and tension over the years, especially during graduate school and when I was a nursing mom. So for all of you in pain, I feel ya! Been there many times. Every time my neck is out of alignment it strikes me how much it affects my energy and overall well-being.
You see, the neck is like the gateway for the entire nervous system. When part of it is inflamed, tight or out of alignment, unexpected problems can happen in the rest of the body, too.
Ideal neck alignment results in a happy nervous system.
When the body is in “neutral” or “ideal” alignment there are three natural curves in the spine; the lumbar, thoracic and cervical curves. These three curves make an “S-shape.” This is considered natural, healthy posture.
Other benefits of natural posture include:
- Reduced back pain
- Less frequent headaches
- Regular bowel movements
- Improved attention and mental clarity
- Corrected scoliosis
- Healthy pregnancy and female organ function
- Improvements in asthma
- Improvements in arthritis and joint pain
- Lower incidence of ear infections
- Lower blood pressure
- ….and more: http://bit.ly/28QsqHw
If you have a minute, check out this video, from Chiropractors Without Borders!, where a nonverbal, wheelchair-bound child goes from a near-vegetative state to walking after one simple neck adjustment that frees up his entire nervous system, allowing it to jump start for the first time in years:
How to Relieve Neck Tension and Prevent Future Problems:
First, it’s important to bring attention to the one thing we tend to overlook when it comes to spinal health; NUTRITION!
Poor nutrition and inadequate water intake can result in inflammation which consequently places stress on the nervous system. So, hydrate well and eat REAL food! You may even try giving inflammatory stuff like processed foods and alcohol a big break for a few weeks to months and see if that alone makes a difference in your quality of life and neck comfort.
Other Remedies for Relief…
- Make sure your computer monitor is at eye level and directly in front of you
- Avoid long periods of consecutive driving or looking down at your smartphone
- Sleep in a neutral position; avoid pillows that cause your head to tilt up in one direction and try to regularly alternate your sleeping position to avoid tight muscles on one side of the body
- If you find that the tension radiates from your neck down to shoulders, try to sit more upright during your work day (better yet, stand!) and hug a pillow at night to keep shoulders “stacked” and from rounding forwards
- Get your partner, a professional or YOUR OWN HANDS to massage tight areas of your head, neck and shoulders. Some pressure points you can target with your fingertips include:
- the middle of the back of the skull
- behind the middle of your ears
- top of the jaw
- eyebrow line
- on your face slightly down from your nose (both sides)
- your temples
- all 10 fingertips on top of your head to massage various aspects of the head/scalp
- the top of the neck, right below the occiput (i.e., back of the head/skull)
- the inside front of your shoulder/top of chest
- the back of your shoulder/rear deltoid
- space between the clavicle and shoulder
- several inches below the armpit on the side of the chest
- …and last but not least; INSIDE YOUR MOUTH! This is crazy to try but SO EFFECTIVE thanks to the complex relationships between your facial and neck muscles. With *clean hands* try pulling the inside of your cheek out to stretch/rub it. Try the same with the inside of your lower lip all the way into the bottom of the cheek.
- Put your neck into a gentle extension stretch to correct poor posture – this is often done through the use of a special “pillow” for support: http://bit.ly/2jNvjRU
- Try the following gentle exercises for your neck, recommended by the Cleveland Clinic:
- Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times
- Push your head backwards into your car head rest or hands and hold for 30 seconds
- Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side
- Strengthen your posterior muscles for overall improvements in posture through the following exercises (note: these are best done for alignment maintenance and after knowing your body is in a neutral position. If you’re in pain or think you have a misalignment, seek a chiropractor first):
- Reverse flies
- High-to-low rows
- Lat pull downs
- Rotator cuff exercise
- Cable pulls in different angles for general back strengthening and endurance
- “Superman” back extensions
- Static cobra pose and/or cobra press-ups
- Back extensions from mat with gentle twist at top
- Use heat or ice to provide relief from tension. A rule of thumb I tend to suggest for clients is to use ice if the pain is acute and heat if the pain lasts more than 48-72 hours. Note: Most professionals advise against sleeping with heat pads due to the risk of burns and interference with deep, quality sleep. Also, using ice for prolonged periods (over 15 or so minutes per application) can be bad for your nerves. So, use both in moderation and listen to your body for what it needs!
Misalignment in the Cervical Spine (i.e., neck)
A person’s neck can become misaligned due to one of the following reasons:
- “A vertebra going out of place (‘misalignment’) because of a slip or fall (i.e., ‘macrotrauma’).
- The entire spine misaligning globally due to poor posture.
- Joint swelling caused by damage done to the intervertebral joint.
- An inflammatory response caused by a poor diet, lack of pure water or psychological stress.
- Osteoporosis or degenerative changes of the spine or intervertebral discs.
- Trigger points and tight back muscles that pull the vertebrae out of place.”
Read more: http://bit.ly/28QsqHw
How to Identify Misalignment in the Spine
True misalignment can be present with or without pain. In both scenarios, misalignment lowers the optimal function of the body due to changes in internal health and physical performance. Note: Physical performance doesn’t just pertain to athletes. It can encompass how effectively one squats or stands up from a chair, and much more.
According to Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Lauren Dodds, when a spinal misalignment is present, the body’s level of function is altered. Its fight-or-flight response becomes dominant. Although the body is trying to help itself survive, the fight-or-flight response can actually hinder the body from healing and growing, perpetuating more stress to an already overtaxed system.
Dr. Dodds explains that “thoughts, traumas and toxins” can all cause spinal misalignment. In other words, our spinal health is impacted by our emotional/personal lives, physical state and external environment. Dr. Dodds adds that although the strongest motivating factor for people to visit a chiropractor is pain, that shouldn’t be the only reason since, as mentioned, the impacts of misalignment are profound.
So, how do you know if you’re misaligned if you’re not experiencing pain?
Dr. Dodds suggests looking in a full-length mirror to see if you notice any asymmetries. You might notice that one shoulder is a little higher than the other or that one side of your hips juts forward. You can also have a trusted personal trainer or Pilates instructor do a postural analysis for you. In short, if you find that you’re out of alignment (or even if you simply suspect that you are), it’s a wise idea to find a chiropractor near you to visit.
Good news… *most* insurances will cover the visit and *most* chiropractors will accept it, so cost shouldn’t be a giant hindrance in a lot of scenarios. Either way, when you take care of your health through preventative measures like visiting a chiropractor and getting hands-on about relieving your own neck tension, your WHOLE BODY feels better and you prevent future problems from arising!
Cheers to living with optimal function and health! You deserve it.
Yours in health and wellness,