Neck pain is a common source of disability that affects your every day life, while simultaneously being non-threatening to your life. It’s a form of suffering that affects you in the moment, but it is not an emergency. But with your quality of life being affected so much, now is also the time to do something about it.
My tip of the week is that you need to pay attention to your neck’s foundation. Your neck’s foundation is your thoracic spine. Your mid back. Your shoulders and that space between your shoulder blades. When you have lost mobility in your upper back, then your neck will surely suffer as a result. Stiffness in your back causes your neck to move forward into a forward head posture. This makes your neck muscles work harder. This creates instability in the joints in your neck. This complex of problems can create a chronic neck pain condition, and it can cause headaches.
When your neck is forced forward from your upper back being tight, the muscles such as the trapezius, the levator scapulae, the paraspinal muscles, and the scalene muscles all have to tighten to brace the neck, and to pull their supportive load. This chronic neck tightness can create trigger points in your muscles, it can create a tendonopathy, and it can degrade the joints in your neck. Every inch that your neck goes forward can multiply the forces that your neck is forced to hold, and this creates more stress and instability as time goes on.
Many of us are stuck behind a desk, sitting and looking at a computer monitor for hours at a time, without many breaks in between. This long form of abuse to your own back will cause your upper back to become stiff. You’re in a constantly hunched position. This is spinal flexion without a lot of time going back, straightening out in extension.
You’re going to need to extend your spine once in a while. You’re going to need to mobilize your spine.
One of the most common ways that my patients mobilize their backs is by using a foam roller. Foam rollers are great because they provide a comfortable surface on which to extend your spine. You ca lay the roll across your back, and you can reach out wide with your arms to open your chest and roll your back back at the same time. It’s a great way to provide a surface massage on your tight spinal muscles. But more importantly, getting the joints in your back to open up and to mobilize is an effective way to provide better support for your neck. As a bonus, the deep stabilizing muscles of your neck are usually very active during this exercise.
Another excellent mobility drill is one that I teach many of my patients when I identify a lot of stiffness in their upper backs. This one involves you getting on your knees, kneeling against a bench, bed, or couch. And you’ll need a stick to hold on to, like a broomstick handle or a golf club. You start by kneeling against the bench in a prayer position, elbows on the surface of the bench, and your hands palms up holding on to the stick. While in this position, rock back so your arms go overhead, and bend your elbows so your hands and that stick goes behind your head. You will feel a great stretch in your latissimus muscles on both sides, and you will feel a great passive extension in between your shoulder blades.
Spinal manipulation is not something you can do at home, but when you get a great chiropractor that can provide the right amount of movement to your upper back, that provides an immediate, palpable relief to that tight feeling of pressure between your shoulder blades. If you have neck pain, and you haven’t explored this approach, this type of therapy along with stabilizing exercises is a great combination.
Any time you can get yourself into a doorway stretch or some other reaching type of stretch or movement with your arms and shoulder, you are helping your upper back mobility. Movement of the upper half of your body in general is an important thing to do if you are stuck in one position at work all day.
Todd Lloyd, DC