Like so many explorations, I have a personal connection with neck issues. I got crunched once quite solidly in a rugby ruck and felt a terrifying lightening bolt go through my body. My neck hasn’t been the same since. Then, just a few years back, I slept on the floor and woke up pretty much incapacitated. There was a shooting pain radiating mid-neck down, and any movement caused and 8/9 out of 10 level of pain. I received a few acupuncture treatments that caused a downgrade to a 5/6, but mostly I just laid on the couch and freaked out. All I did was sleep on the floor. What the heck happened?
As it healed, I reflexively moved it a lot. The stiffness sucked, and I didn’t want to go back there again. I stretched and mobilized it often, and even figured out how to make my own ‘adjustments’ or ‘pops’ (both actively and passively). The acupuncture notes first showed me the connection between the wrist and the neck, and why when I flexed my wrist I could get a much deeper stretch:
My chiropractor (which I see much less often) has since nicknamed me “Gumby Neck”, but as all ‘bendy’ people can attest to, more flexibility doesn’t necessarily translate into less pain.
It is the usability and control of your range of motion that matters.
When considering why the neck is either under-utilized or over-utilized in the first place, we have to look at functional movement of the spine to which it’s connected.
Contrast this mastery to my best attempt:
There’s lot’s of hinge points that clump together. I’m unable to get controlled motion at all of my vertebrae, and my neck/upperback is downright stuck together.
It makes sense to have neck issues when you don’t have articular independence.
My excessively mobile neck has to make up for my underperforming cervical-thoracic junction.
Interesting enough, Sue Falsone recently released this video ( a free excerpt from her DVD) highlighting separation of the neck from the upper back through upward and downward dog. I took it one step further in asking the neck to flex — opposite of what the t-spine was doing:
Note that most of the movement in the ‘butt-up’ position comes from my shoulders, not my thoracic spine.
In asking neighboring joints to do opposing movements, you force independent joint function.
To find the specific segment/movement that causes you trouble, you can use Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs) to pinpoint the trouble spot.
- Take a deep breath into the belly
- Push the air into your deep, lower gut and hold it there
- Irradiate tension from that lower abdomen out to every place in your body EXCEPT the one you want to move
- Create the largest, most controlled circle with the joint that you can, keeping the same speed and being conscious of any ‘bumps’ in the circle
- If there’s an opening angle pinch — the angle that’s getting bigger — train through it. This indicates a “tissue issue”
- If there’s a pinch in the closing angle — the angle that’s getting smaller — stop to stretch/use isometrics to convince the brain to allow you the range. This indicates a neurological issue.
Thoracic Spine CARs
Extension, by comparison, is my most limiting factor. You can also see how the veins in my neck buldge when I forget to breathe when trying to ‘force’ movement.
Cervical Spine CARs
As with the thoracic CARs, I choose to perform them from the triangle sit (knees wide, feet together) position to take out any cheating by the hips. Standing CARs tend to have much more variability for error.
Many folks, including myself tend to have a mobility issue at c5-c6. This is where I got ‘crunched’ the first time and where the pain radiated from the floor sleeping debacle. Located almost mid-neck, it serves as a primary nerve point. Patterns have reasons behind their repetition. If you’re willing to keep digging, you’ll usually find something.
Hinge Point Training
Hinge point training focuses movement at a particular vertebral junction. You’re looking to flex, extend, and rotate at that specific spot.
You can perform this type of practice supine on the floor, or from the same low triangle sit as before:
Segmental Cervical Spine
The chin tuck attempts to create space in which to move in. My flexion is also a bit off. I should have tried flexing from the mid-neck, not the lower neck.
A closing, short angle pinch calls for some stretching or isometrics. Whichever you choose, it should be as precise as the movement used to assess it.
Segmental Cervical Stretch
Palpate the spot, lean into it, and bend away.
In systemizing movements, we have a means of using distinct inputs to create distinct outputs. Pain is a result of trapped tension. To release it mechanically, we have to be able to capture it in order to disperse it elsewhere.
- The neck is a translation of the spine
- Articular independence must precede articular interdependence for efficient movement
- Asking neighboring joints to perform opposite tasks is a practice of autonomous function
- CARs can be used to assess joint range of motion and pinpoint a trouble spot
- Hinge point training can be used to practice motion at a particular vertebral junction
- Once joint independence has been established, it can be integrated into a larger movement pattern
Part One of this series, Relaxing the Neck, can be found here.
**Credit for much of the information presented here goes out to Dr. Andreo Spina and his Functional Range Conditioning seminar.**