Chronic Neck pain can be a debilitating and exhausting condition to live with. It can be caused by traumatic injury from many years ago, chronic sitting, poor posture, breathing dysfunction and very commonly; stress. In this brief article I would like to differentiate between a local and global approach to treating neck pain and offer some possible strategies you can employ to regain your pain free neck function.
Firstly, a local approach to treating any musculoskeletal issue would be to assess the mobility, strength and control of the joint/joints in question. We can also apply provocative movements and tests to determine a baseline. Working on these findings or in very close proximity to the area can be described as a ‘local’ approach. It could be massaging and releasing tight muscles, stretching the area to overcome stiffness, and performing simple exercises to work on strength and control.
A global approach to the problem would include looking beyond the immediate source of pain and getting a clearer picture of the multitude of factors that are involved in contributing to the condition. The thing we do know about neck pain is this: it’s complicated. Research continues to show people with chronic neck pain demonstrate an altered pattern of muscle activation during both functional and cognitive tasks. In short there is significantly more tone in some muscles groups, and limited or no muscle activity in others. This can contribute to sensations of stiffness, limited range of motion and even compression of neural structures.
You could say a global approach would be to address all of the other factors outside of the stiff and painful neck. It could include stress management techniques, learning and training more optimal breathing patterns, addressing postural compensations and making lifestyle changes to reducing sitting or computer time. In regards to the physical exercise, performing and mastering exercises that require the person to use their whole body and “integrate” the neck into a more complex and sensory rich movements is the key. Exercises that involve using reactive balance and instability, moving with correct posture and loading the whole kinetic chain foot to head in functional based exercises have proven to be very powerful at improving neck pain and function.
If you have been suffering from neck pain and never tried performing a more general exercise program, you could be missing out on the number one thing that would allow you to live and perform pain free again.