Did you know that 10 seconds can change your life? Well, that might be a slight exaggeration.
Meet Mary, a patient of mine I met about 10 years ago. She has been retired for five years now. Mary worked as a city controller for many years and of course had to sit at the computer for many hours a day. Mary would pop into my office with neck pain and stiffness every three to six months and expect a miracle. Sure, we would get some relief from her neck pain with spinal manipulation and some basic exercises I would give her. But after a brief time, the neck pain and stiffness would return because human nature is to stop doing what helps us once we feel better.
So, when Mary walked into my office last week unable to move her neck in any direction without severe sharp stabbing pain, I wasn’t that surprised. The real issue is now her neck pain was keeping her from doing her crafts she had begun to enjoy with retirement, and this made her ready to commit to a more permanent solution.
In this blog we will discuss:
- Mary’s experience with neck pain.
- The cause of Mary’s neck pain.
- The treatment we used to help Mary with her neck pain.
Mary is 6 feet tall and has always hunched forward a bit. At least since we first met. She told me she was taller than everyone as a kid, so she felt embarrassed. So, over the years she had developed an “anterior head carriage” as well as a slight “dowagers hump.” She also sat hunched over a computer for 30 years, which wasn’t helping the situation. Also, now she was spending her days crafting looking down for hours at a time.
There can be a genetic component to both anterior head carriage as well as a dowager’s hump. However, posture and lifestyle can also greatly affect the shape of our body. When we are young our bones are a little softer. So, the postures and positions we put our body in will affect us as we get older.
Anterior head carriage is a condition that occurs when the head is positioned too far forward in relation to the rest of the body. This can cause strain on the neck muscles and lead to pain, stiffness, and even headaches. Factors that contribute to anterior head carriage can include poor posture, prolonged sitting, and improper ergonomics.
A Dowager’s hump or hyper kyphosis is an excessive curvature of the spine. Usually, this occurs in the thoracic spine (mid back). Often it is also simply called kyphosis, which is a forward curvature of the spine.
Upon examination we found an interesting pattern. When Mary was sitting up, she couldn’t turn her head from side to side due to neck pain and stiffness. But when she was lying down and relaxed, I could turn her head to its full end range. There were two reasons for this. First, when you are laying down the muscles can relax allowing freer motion. But more importantly it takes gravity out of play. This allows for freedom of movement in the joints of the neck.
So, what did we do about Mary’s condition? First, we needed to improve joint mobility for short term pain relief. Through joint manipulation we were able to do this fairly quickly. Secondly, we needed some postural changes to improve the biomechanics of Mary’s cervical spine AKA her neck especially while sitting upright! Third, a simple adjustment of raising her craft table up higher, closer to eye level meant she didn’t have to look down all day!
One quick comment on this. As we get older it is a challenge to change postures permanently, we have had for so many years. So, our goal is to create better habits for the patient and maintain what is there, so it doesn’t progress further with time and gravity.
Here is a simple three step exercise we used with Mary to remind her to put herself in a better biomechanical position and decrease neck pain and stiffness.
Following two weeks of joint manipulation and postural exercises noted above, we were able to get rid of Mary’s neck pain as well as keep it away with these tools she now had.
In conclusion, Mary’s pain was a real pain in the…. neck! But, with a combination of joint manipulation and postural changes, we were able to straighten things out for her. It just goes to show that a little bit of effort and awareness of our posture can make a significant difference in our lives – and save us from a world of hurt! So, the next time you catch yourself slouching, remember that good posture is not just for looks, it’s for feeling good too. Trust me, your neck (and back) will thank you for it!
If you are struggling with your neck pain, we can help!