Neck Pain - Common cause, related conditions and treatment
The neck or cervical spine is one of the most common areas where people experience musculoskeletal pain. House for 7 stacked cervical vertebrae named C1-C7, numerous and important nerves and blood vessels and of course the spinal cord.
Its anatomical characteristics make it extremely adaptable and durable but also fragile and susceptible to poor posture. The neck provides support for the head, that almost balances on top of it.
Perfectly aligned the head weights on the spine around 5.4 kg. For every inch of forward head posture, in relation to the person’s centre of gravity, the weight of the head over the spine increases by 10 pounds or 4.5 kg.
This added weight causes increased wear and tear to the spine but also loads the soft tissue causing the development of restrictions and trigger points in neck and shoulder muscles, which cause pain locally and referred pain and symptoms usually upwards, onto the head, ears, face and jaw. Also important as well to be considered during treatment, imbalance of the soft tissue anywhere along the body affects the balance of the whole system.
Desk bound jobs are particularly susceptible to forward head posture although of course not exclusively.
One of the main reasons can be explained by the myofascial lines of Tom Myers.
In a seated position our deep front myofascial line is shortened. When this posture is held for hours, year in and year our and we do nothing to compensate for it, restrictions develop in this line and we start being pulled forward by it.
A forward head posture can be the source, as mentioned above, of musculoskeletal pain, both locally to the neck and shoulder area and referred, usually to the head.
A forward head posture can cause any of the following symptoms:
Example of the SCM muscle Trigger Point referred pain pattern. We can see how it contributes to ear pain and headaches, both TMJ disorder symptoms.
- Headaches and migraines referring from muscles located at the neck and shoulder area.
Example of Suboccipital muscle Trigger point referred pain pattern, causing headache.
Example of Trapezius muscle “question mark” Trigger point referred pain pattern. Trigger points on this muscle cause headaches, the very common “pain behind the eye” and refer pain also to the jaw, contributing to TMJD symptoms. Not only pain, trigger points in this muscle can also cause other symptoms like dizziness or blurred vision.
- Forward head posture and trigger points on the neck and shoulders muscles can start a domino effect response, irritating muscles of the jaw, scalp and face starting the TMJ disorder cycle of pain and characteristic symptomatology accompanying this presentation.
Example of Masseter Trigger point referred pain pattern illustrating common TMJ disorder pain areas.
Forward head posture can cause a great deal of pain and other symptoms covered above as well as luck of sleep or anxiety.
In order to prevent or treat this presentation it’s important to work towards correcting the posture. This can be achieved by both:
- Releasing the Trigger points and myofascial restrictions that are causing the symptoms.
- Releasing the myofascial structures that are pulling the upper body and the neck and shoulders forward.
- Incorporating strength based exercises that support our musculoskeletal system towards a more neutral and balanced posture and movements mechanics.