If you have ever suffered from neck pain, then you will understand this saying, “You don’t know what you have till you lose it.” This is very apt when it comes to our body, not that I am talking about losing a limb or anything, but something as simple as some range of motion. Losing neck range can be very debilitating, especially to us golfers!
Neck pain is probably second to low back pain in occurrence, but can in some cases be much worse, as it affects us in very different ways. The neck is highly sensitive as it protects some very important structures, such as arteries to the brain, our wind pipe and throat. This is why we have some neck muscles with a nerve supply directly from the brain, where others normally go via the spinal cord.
This type of innervation (nerve supply) allows these particular neck muscles to react very quickly to any force on the neck. Just think of your reaction if someone poked you in the neck, or at least attempted to! You would very quickly drop your chin and raise your shoulder to ‘close the gap’ to your neck. This is what these muscles are capable of doing.
Neck pain can be a result of injury such as whiplash or sports injury, but can also result from sitting in front of a computer all day, or answering a telephone by holding it in the crook of your neck. So there are many ways of getting neck pain, but all have certain things in common. The 2 mechanical problems are stiffness and weakness, which will eventually lead to pain.
Again, as with the low back, we can get pain in the neck which can fool us into believing the neck is the main culprit, but often the neck is the victim. Some neck pain could be a result of hip muscle imbalance, or changes in the soft tissue structures in the side of the thigh. Understanding these links is vital in a successful treatment.
I commonly look at hip muscle balance when dealing with the neck, in fact, I did a little research from previous patients who have been involved in car accidents, and found that 85% of them with whiplash symptoms had weakness of one or both hips. Fortunately, correcting the neck fault in most cases, corrected the hip imbalance. Just goes to show again the importance of the greater picture when assessing pain.
The other aspect we have to understand with neck pain is the effect on the shoulders. Even more important is the fact that shoulder pain itself can be a result of neck imbalance. Tightness in the soft tissues across the shoulders (upper trapezius) pulls the shoulder upwards towards the neck, which in turn alters the position of the shoulder. This then causes muscle imbalance in the shoulder and weakness can occur, which is then compensated for by the neck muscles.
This vicious circle can lead to a continued pattern of dysfunction, and pain moving all over the area. So again, where the pain is, it ain’t! Knowing where to look in these cases is important, so in essence it is essential to treat both shoulder and neck in a neck or shoulder condition.
Just to finish, neck pain is often mis-diagnosed as things like a pinched nerve, arthritis, or facet joint problems, but the most common site of neck pain is actually the soft tissues of the neck, as these contain the majority of our nerves that carry pain signals. So if you suffer from any neck pain, get it seen to now.