People often experiences a stiff neck with or without headache. sometimes this stiffness can last for weeks. There are a few things I suggest that seem to be effective dealing with this problem. But we need to start with the anatomy.
Think of the cervical spine as a mobile column with a bowling ball held on top. remember, your head weighs about 10% of your body weight. The "wires" that hold the head onto the neck are muscles, the Levator Scapula (picture on the left) and the SCM, (picture below). The levator is the muscle most widely thought to be associated with a stiff neck.
In a prefect world, the position of the head over the neck would be in an erect posture with the neck more or less straight up above the shoulder girdle.
Think of a helium balloon, the balloon hovers in the air the string straight up and down. In order for the head to be in a similar position above the shoulder girdle, the guy-wire muscles Levator Scapula and the Sternocleidomastoid will occupy positions in space that give them mechanical leverage.
Gravity works though, and as a result, posture is often poor with a forward head that puts the guy wire muscles of the cervical spine at a mechanical disadvantage. The result is that they have to work harder to hold the head up. Their increased effort leads to increased compression of the joints of the spine. The result is muscles that are over working and accumulating metabolic by products that are irritating to them, joints that are continuously compressed causing irritation of the structures in and around them, and a physical body that is easily fatigued and inefficient in movement patterns and strategies.
The result can be an acquired stiff neck with headaches or without. Sometimes the neck joints can be irritated enough or have accumulated enough destruction to actually irritate the nerves that feed the arm causing pain, numbness, tingling or weakness into the arm or hand as well.
For the purposes of this blog, I am going to focus on only the postural stiff neck with no radicular symptoms.
To reduce your stiff neck, try this:
- Catch yourself with a forward head position, and bring your head back over your shoulder girdle (think about that balloon floating on top of the string, and make your head do the same on top of you neck).
- Do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise to get the accessory muscle of respiration (your neck muscles) to actively contract and relax for ong periods of time submaximally so that they can relax.
- Put a rolled up towel behind the neck, pull it over your shoulders to the front, grab with both hands and pull the towel down toward your feet. Then let your head bend backwards and when all the way back gently rotate left and right. PAIN FREE>
- If it hurts to turn left, then practice turning into the pain by turning left repeatedly. Do so gently, and just knock on the door of the pain, don't move through the painful range.
- Remember, the neck joints and structures are very small. You don't need to move too far or work too hard to actually be very helpful to the neck. I like to say about the neck that "Less is More".
Try these techniques to resolve your local neck pain without any radicular symptoms of pain or numbness or weakness.