Need to fix your neck pain? Sometimes you have to look a bit lower…

One of the most common reasons for people seeking the care of our ATUNE Physiotherapists is neck pain: and not just neck pain but specific types of neck pain. We see and treat acute neck pain that developed the same morning, to neck pain that has been a constant part of some people’s lives for decades, and everything in between.

I saw one such lady in recent weeks who had suffered with her neck pain on and off for years.

Does this sound familiar to you? A couple of times every year, she finds that for no apparent reason, her neck will seize up overnight, or after simple everyday movements like checking the blind spot when driving.  Her neck locks up, causing severe pain and headache symptoms, and she needs to have a couple of weeks of treatment to settle the symptoms down until the cycle begins again a few months later.

The question I always put to these clients is “Why? Why does this keep seizing up every couple of months after such very small incidents?” It is obvious that the symptoms in the neck are the effect, not the cause in many of these cases.

Following our assessment of her upper body and spinal function, it became very clear in her case that some significant restrictions existed in her Thoracic Spine (the part of the spine just below the neck where the rib cage attaches to).

So why is this important?

The Thoracic Spine is the platform that the Cervical Spine sits upon, and one of its primary functions is rotating and twisting the upper spine. When the Thoracic Spine becomes stiff and hypomobile, for you to continue turning so that your eyes can see to the side and behind you (e.g.,. checking your blind spot when driving), your neck will compensate to make up for it.

In the same way, if the Thoracic Spine becomes flexed and rounds out your shoulders, it puts your neck into a “forward” position on your shoulders and significantly increases the load that goes through the joints to keep your head centred and upright for daily tasks.

When these compensations remain over a period it may eventually lead to the neck becoming overloaded from performing movements it wasn’t designed repeatedly do. This can then result in acute neck pain, like that of our lady described above.

So what can we do about a stiff Thoracic Spine? Firstly, we need to identify why it is stiff and hypomobile; the most common culprit is poor and prolonged sitting. The consequences of this can be seen here (link to sitting article).

Secondly, we need to begin correcting this stiffness, restoring normal posture and movement to the spine. Once we have identified the main contributing factor, we can develop a home program that targets the area with exercises to supplement manual treatment in the clinic.

In our lady’s case, such treatment gives her the best chance to work towards a long-term solution for her neck pain, not just a quick fix until her next pain episode.

Is your thoracic spine restricted?

There’s a simple way to quickly check if there are some restrictions in your thoracic spine that need addressing by a Physiotherapist. Follow the links below to test yourself.

If you find there are restrictions, it would be a good idea to book in to see your Physiotherapist to begin correcting these issues BEFORE any problems begin. Prevention is always better than cure!

To read further about the effects of different joints and regions of the body upon each other, access this article by Physiotherapist Gray Cook which explores the concept in greater detail.

To learn more about Michael Corrigan, click here.