‘Hold your head high’. To most it’s a saying reminding people to be confident and proud. In my line of work I like to take a more literal interpretation. Not to slouch and to take care of your neck. But what happens when your neck isn’t being cared for the way it cares for you? Poor posture, arthritis, and accidents can all lead to neck pain. Your neck is much more than just a place your noggin sits upon. Today we’ll discuss the area between your head and shoulders and what can happen when it doesn’t get the care and attention it deserves.
Let’s start with a little light anatomy. First I have to tell you necks are set up to not be the most stable part of the body. In order to get all of the range of motion necks have, a little bit of stability had to be sacrificed. Your neck has 7 bones stacked up on top of one another. In between those bones are discs, little cushiony pillows that keep the bones from grinding against each other when you turn you head. Ligaments are the ropes, which lock these bones together. And then there are the muscles, which use tendons to grab hold of the bones and they are the movers and shakers of this party. Lets not forget the nerves, which use the spine as their freeway to get messages to and from the brain.
So why does my neck hurt? A question I get many times a day. Well, all the parts listed above can be the source of your pain in the neck. You bones can widdle down with age and arthritis can set in. (This is 7 times more likely if you’ve ever had whiplash) Also the hard working muscles in your neck can become strained. This is where posture can really play a role. From the side, your ears should be right over your shoulders. If your head jets forward a few inches you’re overworking the muscles in the back of your neck.
Try this test. Find an empty wall in your house and back up to it. Your head and back should hit at the same time. If not you are carrying that bowling ball head of yours out too far. Your discs can also wear down causing the bones to be too close for comfort. This squeeze can cause the three-lane highway your nerves travel in to get in a pinch and become just a single lane construction zone.
Adding one last piece on the puzzle is it’s not always a ‘point where it hurts’ situation. Tight muscles in the back of the neck can cause a headache, your shoulders to hurt, or cause a pins and needles sensation right down to your fingers. Conversely you can have something out of place from the jaw, head or shoulders that feels like the neck is the epicenter here. The bottom line is pain may travel and this can make it tricky to find the true cause.
Now that we covered what can go wrong with the neck, tune in next week while we go over how to make it right and keep it that way.