by Christopher Pettit
The neck encompasses many tissues all of which are neatly held in place by dynamic (muscles and tendons) and passive stabilisers (ligaments and bone). It is subject to the curvature of the spine below and the position of the head above. The target of the spine as a whole is to create a balance of forces to hold your head up and to keep your eyes looking forwards. It achieves this goal optimally when the whole spine adopts a ‘neutral’ position. The head is stabilised and the weight is evenly balance throughout your body, sharing the loads fairly between the dynamic and static tissues.
Neck pain either acute or chronic is very debilitating, and due to its linkage with other areas of the body it is often accompanied with upper back pain, shoulder blade pain or headaches. It is caused when this balance is disrupted, either through a sudden impact for example whiplash or through regularly adopting postures outside neutral parameters. Both lead to disruption and tissue damage which triggers the bodies alarm system – pain.
Development of a targeted program of exercises program using a combination of stretching, strengthening and aerobic conditioning helps restore balance and address the symptoms of neck pain. As a rehabilitative physiotherapist at Broadgate I use many specialised tests to identify which structures need to be stretched and which to be strengthened, to enable unloading of the relevant tissues and restoration of a neutral and pain free position.
Targeted stretching restores the range of motion and elasticity helping relieve stiffness, specific strengthening stabilises the joints of the spine and improves their endurance to sustain favourable postures. And aerobic exercises releases endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), and helps reduce muscle tension.
Common muscles that become tight or weak, particularly in people with office based jobs are;
- Scalene muscles (three pairs of muscles that help rotate the neck).
- Suboccipital muscles (four pairs of muscles used to rotate the head).
- Pectoralis minor muscles (a pair of thin triangular muscles at the upper part of the chest).
- Subscapularis muscles (a pair of large triangular muscles near each shoulder joint).
- Levator scapulae muscles (a pair of muscles located at the back and side of the neck).
Links to excellent stretches and strengthening exercises for these can be found here:
To read more about neck pain and rehabilitation, click here.
Many thanks for your interest.