Image credit((Source: “Woman experiencing neck tension cradles her head in her hand,” Photo courtesy of Carolina Heza on Unsplash »))
Do you have a pain in the neck?
Hands On Healing, located in Montgomery, Alabama, offers massage to alleviate your discomfort and bodywork therapy to correct the source of the problem.
Balance and structure are complex issues.
Each is uniquely different for every person given that we live varied lifestyles with different demands.
However, despite all the variances that lead to the unique differences of each individual, we all share a common physical pattern; that pattern is that we lack a bodily design capable of lifting our head and neck from above.
The head is essentially an eight to ten pound bowling ball that is balanced atop a very small structure, which is our neck.
Note: If you’re not much of a reader, click here and listen to the video. 🙂
Our bodies lack a system for creating upward lift of the head away from the body.
We rely entirely on the neck to accomplish two tasks:
When working with clients on improving the structural balance of the head and neck, we often begin our discussion by explaining that despite the need to improve the placement of the neck to support our mildly heavy head, it becomes essential that the neck itself be supported by some form of structure which leads to the importance of shoulder balance.
Figure 1 (click to enlarge) shows two fascial lines.
On the left side of the image is the front functional line, and on the right is the upper part (as it excludes the lower legs) of the superficial front line.
At first glance you will notice they both share a connection related to the abs, at the apex of the solar plexus.
This binding point greatly hinders either line from fully releasing its tension pattern if the other line remains untreated.
Most of our daily lives consist of handling and/or completing tasks laid out (literally) right in front of us, confining our bodies into a very small space.
The tightness and restriction that develops in the upper chest directly pulls downward on the front of the neck, leading to forward head posture.
As mentioned earlier, the head has no way of lifting itself upward towards the ceiling on its own because that’s the responsibility of the neck. But when confronted with the excessive strength of the pectoral muscle groups, the neck simply cannot do its job.
This is the primary reason why we as therapists tell our clients to stretch their chest.
Stretching helps with neck pain because it changes the underlying pull that keeps the head from lifting.
One more important detail about chest tightness affecting the neck is the body’s system of counterbalance.
Whenever we develop strength in the pectoral (or chest) muscle, e.g., from bench presses, pushups, or sitting at a computer, it’s essential that we give time to developing the musculature of the upper back, rear shoulders, and neck.
Without this system of counter balance, the body will progressively shift toward forward head posture and increased discomfort. Stretching the chest will help ensure that you stay standing tall each day.
In the realm of soft-tissue therapy much of our muscular balance is divided into external and internal arrangements.
This division is based on what function the muscles serve, with externals being primarily involved in larger movements, and internals being structurally supportive and proprioceptive (they send sensory signals to the brain).
When we examine the neck, this division is essential to seeing how dysfunction in the neck has far reaching impact on the body.
The external muscle groups serve to create much of our neck movement, e.g. rotation, flexion, extension, etc., leaving the internal groups to supply information to the brain during these movement so as to protect the delicate spinal cord, keeping the spine aligned correctly.
It’s important that each segment of our body supports and balances each other segment
Without this system of support, we develop compensation patterns leading to tissue damage and pain symptoms.
When improperly aligned, the neck is highly vulnerable to developing a broad range of conditions that can involve not only joint and disc damage, but nerve and arterial impingement.
This sort of impingement can lead to drastic pain and health conditions in the arms, chest, and upper back and spine.
Figure 2 shows the relationship between the scalene muscles in the neck (primary internal muscles) and the brachial plexus.
The brachial plexus is the nerve collection that innervates part of the upper back and all of the shoulder and arm.
The scalene muscles are labeled in green, with the nerves labeled in blue.
At first glance it’s difficult to see any real separation between the muscles and nerves, and in reality there really isn’t much space or separation between the two.
Many of the nerves pass right through the internal myofascial space in the neck, and as imbalance in the shoulders and external neck muscles no longer maintain healthy neck and head function, the scalene muscles will often tighten to stabilize our very important cranial vault that protects our every so precious brain.
Scalene tightness will often lead to binding on the nerve roots, creating sensations of shooting pain into the upper back (the deep uncomfortable pain you get along the side of your spine), as well as pain and tingling that radiates down the arms (still think you’ve got carpal tunnel syndrome?).
In some cases neck tension on the nerves can actually prevent normal shoulder muscle function, making it even more difficult to properly balance the shoulders to better support the neck.
If you have had recent problems with shoulder and arm pain, or even jaw pain, you may be experiencing very deep scalene tension and may need a session with your therapist.
Forward head posture is a major contributing factor to head and neck dysfunction – as well as head and neck pain.
It’s worth mentioning that in forward head posture the weight of the head can almost TRIPLE!
Well, not exactly.
The mass of your head should theoretically be exactly the same. Instead, the increase comes from gravity’s effect on the “relative” weight of the head, or how your head feels to your muscles when they are trying to hold it upright.
Figure 3 (click to enlarge) illustrates this increased gravitational effect.
“Dry Bones” performed by Delta Rhythm Boys (circe 1952)
To watch entire video on YouTube, click here » (opens in new window)