The Case of The Naughty Neck

The Case of The Naughty Neck

A pain in the neck, that’s what I had. A real one, not a metaphorical one.

Have you ever had a neck ache so bad it wouldn’t go away no matter what you tried to relieve the pressure and tension?

Massage, stretching, cracking, heat or ice, a dose of something out of a bottle of various sorts; nothing helps.

After a week of doing a lot of reading in bed where I was propped up by pillows in a variety of wonky positions, my neck was yelling and screaming at me.

The tension, despite my best expert efforts, continued to build until I felt a spillover of crankiness in my jaw and a headache building on the horizon.

I could feel a lovely [sarcasm font] knot on the lower right portion of the back of my neck.

As any quality massage therapist worth their salt would do, I zeroed in on that right-sided knot and spent some time coaxing it to relax.

It did nothing for my neck and jaw junk.

 

Fast Forward

 

A few days later I was on the teaching staff for the next round of Neurokinetic Therapy in Chicago.

I found myself in a room full of highly achieved manual and movement therapists from a wide array of disciplines who needed to practice their manual muscle testing. I had some muscles in need of testing. Can’t do it myself, so, why not?

I took one for the team [wink].

 

I Had It All Wrong

 

The case of my Naughty Neck was not even close to what I expected it to be.

Most days in clinic, I find people have a lot of overwork happening in the muscles in the back of their neck.

These guys (neck extensors for the kinesiologically literate) like to work overtime, usually because of a history of car accidents/whiplash, and lots of hours logged sitting with slumpy posture over a computer keyboard, handheld device, or steering wheel.

Also, because of a lack of core strength, but that is a story left for another day.

There are muscles encircling your neck that function to move your head and sustain your posture. The human head weighs roughly 12 pounds.

I see a lot of only half of those muscles actually doing their job to hold and move the head.

Neck ache ensues, and left unchecked over decades, it can really wear out the hardware in your neck (read: joint changes that limit your ability to move your head around and maybe cause discomfort).

 

Quit Guessing

 

Here I was, massaging that knot on the lower part of my neck.

Remember, this wasn’t helping even a little. It was completely ineffective at relieving the ache that was building daily.

When I had another practitioner test out the neurological function of my neck muscles, we found I had it 100% backwards.

I assumed.

I guessed.

My guess was incorrect.

In my case, the knot on the back wasn’t forming because those tissues were overworking, but because they were underperforming.

The tight muscle was on the front of my neck, where it didn’t hurt, and the backside guys had no chance of keeping up.

I released the correct muscle on the front of my neck, and the painful spot on the back of my neck went away all on it’s own.

So did my jaw tension.

I could have sworn I heard it sigh with relief.

Oh wait….that was me.

 

This is another great example why we can’t assume and guess we know what’s going on.

When you feel pain, tightness, or tension in your body, it’s always for a reason.

It’s trying to communicate something with you about how your body is functioning.

Too often practitioners only look at the painful spot you point to, but that painful spot is only a fraction of the story.

Without actually looking at what the tissue function looks like, you are left with a guess, and like me, that guess could be wrong.

Wrong guesses keep you from feeling your best.


If you feel like you aren’t firing on all cylinders and have an ache or pain that is really cramping your style, make sure to get it checked out! 

I’m currently accepting new clients and have time to do some evaluations and super sleuthing to see if what I do can help you out.

You deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Aches are a Smoke Signal

Your Aches are a Smoke Signal

How to get to some real solutions to eliminate tightness and discomfort versus chasing the pain with no long-lasting, permanent results. Yep, there is a better way.

 

It’s incredibly common to schedule yourself a massage when you are feeling sore, tired, and cranky.

Photo: micagoto

That familiar burn behind your shoulder blades after a long day at the office. A crabby neck from falling asleep on the couch during the nightly Netflix numb-out. Maybe your knees and low back are shot after your lunchtime run.

If you have any experience receiving massage therapy, how often does the LMT zero in on your painful spot you point to, grounding, pounding, and chiseling away to only have the exact painful spot return?

If you’re lucky you get a small handful of relief for a few days. More often than not you only experience a few hours respite from the nagging discomfort you walked in with.

 

What gives?

Are we doomed to wasting precious time and money on a therapy that, at best, is temporary, or at worst, does diddly-squat for those issues you feel in your tissues?

 

Here’s the Insider, Expert Level, Scoop:

Where you think it is…it ain’t

(Thanks, Ida Rolf, for the sound bite)

 

That sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy thing you feel going on is merely a smoke signal; it’s informing you something is going on, but it doesn’t tell you exactly what it is.

 

Like a smoke signal, you need to be curious about it before it gives up the details.

From a manual therapy perspective, soft-tissues are often neurologically overworking or neurologically underperforming.

Ideally everything would be working effortlessly and seamlessly in concert together.

When you’re hurting, they likely aren’t.

Both the overwork/underperform states can leave you feeling sore, tight, and likely with some level of discomfort in various movements or activities that call on those muscle groups.

 

To simplify and restate:

  • An overworking muscle can feel tight and painful.
  • An underworking muscle can feel tight and painful.

 

Greeeeat! So which is it?

Million dollar question right here and one that will determine your success at feeling and moving better without a hitch in your giddyup.

In my massage therapy practice, I use an evaluation and muscle testing process that provides us with the information we need to determine what’s what.

If we find a muscle is neurologically amped up, then heck yeah (!), let’s release it. I will gladly press on it for you.

However, if a muscle isn’t properly utilized by your brain in a particular movement pattern, let’s call it “weak” for generalized simplicity’s sake, and not performing at it’s potential, all the deep tissue massage, stretching, cracking, and foam rolling isn’t going to do jack toward helping you recover and restore your ability to dynamically move without pain.

 

The process is quite simple:

  1. Figure out what’s doing too much and too little (Buzzword: Compensation Pattern)
  2. Turn down the volume on the overachiever
  3. Get the slacker back in the game

 

What you experience is better, smoother, effortless movement with a happy and welcomed side effect of a less sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy body.

Bonus side effect: you cut down on the potential for injury and tissue damage, as well as prevent possible wear and tear on the “hardware” of your body, ‘cause nobody got time for that.

Bonus bonus side effect: you have the ability and energy to show up in deeper, more profound, and effective ways for the people you love and the communities you serve.

Trifecta.

 

 

 

Upper back pain? Stop doing this.

You’ve been sitting at your desk plugging away at your to-do list like a boss. Minutes turn to hours.

All of a sudden you feel like you are being stabbed in the back by a white-hot poker of torture. You shift your shoulders around, but it seems like you just can’t get away from the burning pain in your upper back and behind your shoulder blades.

The discomfort is distracting and it wears you out. You keep eye-balling the clock for the coveted clock-out time so you can go home and sit on the couch and rest your aching shoulders.

Is it time to go yet? Is it Friday yet? What the F can I do for my aching body?

 

Shoulder blade pain is a common issue I see coming through the door in my Gurnee massage therapy office.

So common a pain it keeps me in business. I jest. But not really.

Your right scapula, viewed from the back.  (Still can't believe I drew this myself)
Your right scapula, viewed from the back. (Still can’t believe I drew this myself)

The shoulder blade, known as the scapula by us in the biz, is the “winged” shape bone sitting on your back and moves (or should move) when you move your arms and shoulders.

The scapula moves gloriously with a wide range of whole body and arm movements, and gets sore and sticky when we stick them in one place and forget about them.

 

 

 

In our current culture, where a paycheck is earned by hours sitting at a computer or behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, we are doing a serious disservice to scapular biomechanics, and as a result lead to tight, achy, burning pain in the shoulder blades.

Many people, exhausted and sore from sitting all day, turn to even more sitting on the couch as a way to recover and recuperate their aching upper back.

 

This is a crap idea.

Here’s what’s going on with your body: you are exhibiting Upper-crossed Syndrome.

Upper-crossed syndrome (UCS), as defined by Dr. Vladimir Janda, a Czech neurologist and physiatrist, is a postural pattern that highlights where muscular imbalance in the upper body and neck are found.

These observable patterns are used to aid those of us in physical medicine in our endeavors toward helping you recover from your aches and pains.

Classic Upper-crossed pattern. The discomfort is the result of poor posture.
Classic Upper-crossed pattern. The discomfort is the result of poor posture.

UCS is often found in people who spend a majority of their time sitting at a desk or behind a wheel, usually with little to no regard for efficient posture.

Weakness is often found between the shoulder blades and mid back, where tightness is exhibited in the upper back, neck, and chest muscles.

 

Your body is losing the war against gravity.

As days turn into decades, your muscles continue to freak out, hurt, and eventually your hardware changes, leading to shoulder and neck injuries and joint changes, like the dreaded arthritis, rotator cuff injuries, and disk disease.

Take a walk around your office and observe your colleagues’ posture:

Slumpy shoulders. Arms rotated in as they use the keyboard and mouse. Collapsed through the belly. Head shifted forward, ahead of the shoulder joints. Chin jutted up to keep their eyes on the monitor screen.

Nailed it, didn’t I?

 

I understand your achy back, neck and shoulders. I know what to do to help you with it, and which things you can play around with at home or the office to get that pain to ease up.

In the following posts I will highlight the easy things you can do while sitting at your desk to help you get through the day, as well as the slightly more involved things you can do at home or the gym to help yourself out.

 

In the meantime, here is my parting advice:

Quit rounding your shoulders, a la giving yourself a hug or stretching your arm across your body, as a means to alleviate the ache.

Quit doing this.  It promotes the biggest part of the problem.
Quit doing this. It promotes the biggest part of the problem.

It’s backwards. The real solution will feel counterintuitive to you, but it works. Guaranteed.

 

Stay tuned next week for easy, and non-weird, things you can do while at work to help ease your aching back.

If you’d like some insights on what to do before then, feel free to contact me for some one-on-one instruction.