Neck Pain – Wry Neck

Managing sudden neck pain on your own can be difficult. Whether you’ve had an injury or just woke up with it, physio can provide the right type treatment.

Have you ever just woke up with neck pain? Well you’re not alone. Up to 75% of the general population suffer with an episode of neck pain once in their lives.

Usually it comes on suddenly, from some non-traumatic event causing severe pain and stiffness of the neck. Which can be quite debilitating. Often occurring when waking up, if the head has been held in a prolonged position or turning the head quickly in a particular direction.

This can be particularly concerning when not being able function with your neck the normal way. The reassuring news is that it can be treated with physio and resolved using the right type of treatment, in a short period of time.

Wry Neck Symptoms

  • Neck stiffness – Your range of movement becomes severely limited. Usually locked up away from the site of pain.
  • Pain – Extreme pain localised to the centre or side of the affected area. Often radiates into the shoulder.
  • Muscle spasm – The injury usually leads to muscle spasm of the surrounding neck muscles and causes further restriction in neck movement.

Causes of Wry Neck

There are several theories of what causes a wry neck. The most common one being the small facet joints (two on each side of the vertebra) become irritated or injured when held in a prolonged position or moved quickly. This causes the increased pain, movement restrictions and muscle guarding.

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The other cause of a wry neck is an injury to the disc. Whether it be a bulge or strain of the disc wall, it can cause inflammation and place pressure on nerves that branch out of the neck. This may result in pain that radiates down the arm or cause altered sensation. If you experience this altered sensation it is important to seek professional advice. Discogenic neck pain might take longer to recover than a facet, but still responds well to physiotherapy.

Treatment Options

The good news is that a wry neck can be treated conservatively with physiotherapy treatment techniques and exercise. Physiotherapy can offer manual therapy techniques to loosen the stiff joints and soft tissue release for the muscle spasm. Dry needling may also help with reducing the muscle spasm and strapping can help during the acute pain.

Once the pain has gone and movement has returned, it will be important to consider prevention in the future. Strengthening and postural correction exercises for the neck, along with advice on ergonomics for your work environment may be needed.

Ideally seek treatment within the first 24 hours to start with the right advice for dealing with this injury. After a thorough assessment you will receive the best treatment and appropriate exercises to help you recover from your neck pain.

For an appointment, call on 095290990 

Upper Crossed Syndrome – A foundation for failure

Are you aware of upper crossed syndrome? Does this postural shape look familiar to you? If yes, then you take a look at the corrective exercises I’ve included in the blog.

Posture follows movement like a shadow

Are you being double crossed by your posture? There is a chronic condition called Upper Crossed Syndrome (USC) which is expressed by the rounding of shoulders, forward chin poke of the head.  Mostly seen with elderly, but with an accelerated escalation of sedentary lifestyles and work environments, it has become a common sight for all ages.

Upper Crossed Syndrome Anatomy

The position of your head and shoulder is orchestrated by various opposing forces. These muscle balance forces vary depending on the positions we regularly find ourselves in. With UCS there is usually a weakness of the deep neck flexors and overactive/tightness of the upper traps and levator scapulae. This causes a forward head position with a hinge point at the lower cervical spine.

Lower down with weakness of rhomboids and lower traps, matched with overactive/tight pectoralis major and minor causes a rounding of the shoulders.Posture

The muscle imbalance can affect multiple joint levels of the spine, the glenohumeral joint, the acromioclavicular joint and scapulothoracic joint. These might all lead to dysfunctions and result in injury.

How does this impact me?

Well that depends on how you live your life. This is a chronic condition that affects multiple joints and progressively over years they become stiff or weak. This closes the window on living an active lifestyle and increases risk of injury.

With less mobility and stability, comes greater risk to injury. 

This is typical with most office workers, students or driver’s. Their neuromuscular system has adapted to the UCS shape for years. But the injury risk increases when activity and movement levels are pushed higher than normal, for example overhead lifting, throwing sports or freestyle swimming that requires a wider overhead range of movement and ends up putting undue stress on the upper body.

Have you got the following?

  • Chin Poke: Is your head sticking so far out it’s at risk of falling off! Next time you stop at traffic lights take a look at the other drivers posture, it’s common to see the drivers head stuck at least 12 inches from the head rest.
  • Rounding of the Shoulders: Due to a weakness of scapula retractors, the lower traps and rhomboids, the super tight Pec muscles draw the shoulders forwards. Look at overly developed bodybuilders for a great example of rounded shoulders.
  • Winging scapula: When the scapula lifts away from the wall of the rib cage, it’s usually the result of a muscle imbalance. This might take a friend to spot this one for you.
  • Creasing in the neck: It’s the last places you want to see a crease. At the base of the neck and accompanied by the start of a hump in the thoracic spine.

Change starts now – How do I get there?

Expecting to do an overhead squat or chest to bar pull up straight away might be unrealistic if you’ve spent years holding a UCS posture. But there are ways of getting there…

  • Scaling the new movement that your practicing and working within the ranges that your body allows. Giving the joints time to adapt, without risking injury.
  • Working on individual muscles that developed the weakness and tightness over the years. This requires specific strengthening and stretching exercises.
  • Muscle tightness in your neck and chest may benefit from soft tissue work to release the muscle, like massage or dry needling.
  • Correcting form, sometimes we don’t have the body awareness to identify poor technique. Having the coach or physio look at your movement to correct where it’s needed.
  • Change can only be enforced through repetition and habit. The positions you’re in most of the day dictate your posture. At work, in the car, or at home, try to change your posture regularly.

Below are some basic examples of exercises to get you started with organising the shoulder and head. Try following them regularly to give your body the opportunity to change.

Continue reading “Upper Crossed Syndrome – A foundation for failure”

Neck Pain

In New Zealand neck pain is a growing problem due to a more sedentary lifestyle. They can be tricky injuries to recover from. Take a look at how physio can help.

Neck pain is a growing musculoskeletal problem with more of us sitting over longer periods of time. But also from doing heavy manual jobs or exercise.

This condition can cause various symptoms, including the following:

  • PainNeck pain Symptoms 1
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasm
  • Referred pain (face, arm, mid back)
  • Headaches
  • Altered sensation (ie numbness/tingling)
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

These symptoms may be caused by strain to any of the structures around your spine. Structures such as the ligaments, muscles, joints, discs or nerves. Acute injuries are often brought on through excessive loading, this could be from an accident playing sport or in your vehicle.

Other more chronic forms of neck pain could have developed from an acute injury that was poorly managed. Or with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the sustained postures can overload tissue of the neck.

Preventing Neck Pain

Your next posture is your best posture

Our body is designed to handle multiple positions. Set regular intervals every 20-30 minutes to change your sitting position. Try alternating between sitting and standing. See my other blog Sitting Posture how important is it really”

Lifting correctly

We’re not all Olympic lifters, but understanding the basic principles of lifting are important to preventing neck pain. Also understanding your limits to lifting. If it’s too heavy be honest with yourself and ask for help.

Keeping calm and dealing with stress

Stress can have a significant impact with pain and ignoring stressful situations can lead to the development of neck pain. Dealing with these gremlins will be great for you in so many ways. See my other blog on “Coping with stress”.

How can Physio help my neck pain?

Identifying the source of your injury is our primary goal with a detailed assessment. Once the root cause of your neck pain has been identified you will receive an effective evidence based treatment. Treatment may consist of the following.

The aim of the your rehab is to fully recover with the confidence to use your neck normally, without fear. Also to leave with a greater understanding of your neck to prevent any injuries in the future.

For an appointment, call on 095290990

Sitting Posture – How important is it really?

Sitting posture is something that get’s heavily criticised and over analysed. There could be more to it than simple ergonomics.

Your best posture is your next posture

In the last several years sitting posture has been classed as the “new smoking” or a dangerous position that will ruin your life. There are various arguments for and against sitting from different health experts and research. My opinion on this topic comes from my own clinical experience and taking value from all of the other respective parties.

First of all, sitting is not dangerous. But the longer we sit over a prolonged time is not healthy

Our body is dynamic and multi-functional, one of these functions is sitting. What’s up for debate is length of time and position. Recent studies have documented the following long term health risks from prolonged sitting.

diabetes-infographic

**These studies are predictors for potential health risks, but are also contributed by poor nutrition, sleep deprivation and lack of exercise.

What’s the physical problem with sitting?

In unsupported sitting (i.e. on the floor, perched sitting) we have some activity from core muscles that stabilise the spine. With no activity we would collapse into a heap.

Our central nervous system cleverly adapts to positions we hold most in the day. In supported sitting our body adjusts, slowly loosing flexibility in the thoracic spine, hips and hamstrings. The trunk muscles, “the core” reduce activity in sitting and loose their primary function of support when doing physical activities. Other muscles like the glutes, scapular stabilisers and posterior rotator cuff become short or weakened.

With the lack of support our body naturally falls into the path of least resistance and this is when changes in posture begin to happen. Essentially causing us to hang off the tension of ligaments and other soft tissue, instead of support from the tone and strength of stabilising muscles.

Chemical changes are brewing while sitting

The longer we sit without movement puts more stress and pressure specific tissues. Causing reduced blood flow to that area, meaning it gets less oxygen and less removal of metabolic bi-products. The muscle becomes increasingly toxic and acidic.

Luckily our tissues hold acidic sensing Ion channels that detect changes to PH levels. When in an acidic environment it sends our brain a signal and we get the feeling of discomfort.

Choosing to ignore the discomfort and stay in the same position causes an increase in toxicity and will result in the development of the trigger point phenomenon. Another phenomenon called central sensitisation may also happen. When pain signals constantly bombard the brain with pain signals it lowers your pain thresh-hold, making you more susceptible to pain in stressful environments.

Whats the answer to sitting?

Looking at the physical and chemical changes that happen in a sustained position you can see that any position for a prolonged time is not beneficial to us.

A posture that doesn’t move isn’t a postural problem, it’s a problem of movement.

“Neutral” spinal and postural alignment is all well and said. But even sitting in an ergonomically aligned position will feel uncomfortable if sat this way for 8 hours.

To counteract the negative effects of sustained sitting positions, here are some recommendations:

1. Position variation

Look at the postures below. Some of them were traditionally classed as “bad” postures. But these postures vary the tensions and stress’s applied to different tissue. By regularly changing these forces it will allow you to tolerate sitting for longer. Making a conscious effort to change position every 15-20 minutes (remember you can still work, just change position).

Sitting variation

2. Get up and move

Offload the stress and compression of your toxic butt! Giving a chance for tissue to oxygenate and flush unwanted toxins away. Also reducing eye strain, stress levels and fatigue. Not to mention all the other long term health benefits displayed above.

Studies have shown improvements in performance with intermittent breaks every 30 minutes (4). Consider standing when taking a phone call. Think about how many calls you get a day!

3. Sit-standing desks

Standing desks have taken off and are all the rage in open plan offices. Standing gives those stablising muscles a chance to work their magic. But even with standing you should consider regularly changing standing positions to offload pressures. Using a perching stool or foot stool to alternate step-standing.

4. Exercise

If this component is not included all of the above strategies will be wasted. Standing desks are not an exercise, it encourages a little more activity and is more sustainable. But your body needs to be challenged in other positions other than the one you hold most of the day. The long term health benefits are well documented for exercise.

Remember if you are just starting to exercise and coming from prolonged sitting over a number of years, ease into exercise gradually. Start off with regular power walks or exercycle. But as your fitness improves try to challenge it more, through other sources like pilates, yoga, resistance training or team sports.

Sitting isn’t the problem, it’s not moving enough. 

  1. Bell et al, (2014) Combined effect of physical activity and leisure time sitting on long-term risk of incident obesity and metabolic risk factor clustering. Diabetologia
  2. Schmid et al, (2014) Sedentary behavior increases the risk of certain cancers. J Natl Cancer Inst

  3. Katzmarzyk et al, (2012) Sedentary behaviour and life expectancy in the USA: a cause-deleted life table analysis. 
  4. Thorp et al (2014), Breaking up workplace sitting time with intermittent standing bouts improves fatigue and musculoskeletal discomfort in overweight/obese office workers. Occup Environ Med.

Trigger points – what are they?

Trigger points are the most common source of muscle pain. There are many factors that affect a trigger point and for best results they should all be identified.

I’m going to put a wild bet out there that everyone has a trigger point in at least one muscle of their body. Some have more than others. Who of you are regularly rubbing their shoulders or elbows? More and more we are sitting at the computer or looking down at our phones (sorry for writing this blog) causing prolonged tension on muscles around the neck and shoulder, resulting in the development of trigger points.

What is a Trigger point?

It is defined as a hypersensitive palpable nodule in taut bands of muscle fibers. Meaning very small bundles of muscle fiber have become contracted/”knotted” due to a chemical imbalance within the tissue.  The area is very painful and can cause you to jump or cramp on palpation. It can cause referred pain, weakness and restriction through movement. Which makes doing normal activities and training difficult.

Triger Point diagram
Diagram of trigger points within a muscle

Trigger points of individual muscles have a very specific referred pain pattern and can mimic other problems. For example pain in the forearm and wrist can be referred from Infraspinatus, a shoulder muscle. Without a detailed assessment and clearing other areas this could be misconceived as a tennis elbow.

What causes a trigger point?

A TP can be brought on in a number of ways. 

  • Poor postures held for a prolonged period, causing certain muscles to work harder while trying to support structures like the head, eventually causing TP’s.
  • Repetitive strain on muscles from overuse over multiple days, weeks and months. How many clicks of the mouse or typing are your doing? How much swiping of the smartphone? These repetitive movements take their toll.
  • Emotional stress and poor sleep can cause muscle tension. Particularly the neck and shoulder muscles.
  • A lack of movement will develop TP’s when sitting or on bed rest for a prolonged time.
  • Heavy lifting can cause the development of TP’s when the muscle is placed under excessive loads which it is not familiar with.
  • Trauma to a muscle, either as a reflex to pain or overcompensating for the weak and injured structure. This is quite common with car accidents or sports injuries.

Our muscles sit within a biochemical “soup” of  hormones, nerve transmitters and chemicals, all affecting the PH and Oxygen levels of the tissue. Your body knows the perfect recipe to keep everything balanced, but when we overload it with one or more of the above, it causes changes to the recipe, resulting in a drop in PH (becoming more acidic) and reduces the oxygen supply. This leads to the development of TP’s.

How do we treat a trigger point?

Your desire to change must be greater than your desire to stay the same. 

The following treatments for trigger points will help settle them down, but if we provide the same environment they will return.

  • Trigger point release – sustained manual pressure applied to the trigger point causes increased blood flow to remove toxins from the area, interrupts the pattern of pain and spasm and encourages the production of natural pain relieving endorphin’s.
  • Trigger point dry needling – There is a growing evidence base for trigger point dry needling. The needling causes local twitch responses which are a central nervous system reflex. This helps disrupt the pain feedback loop but also reset the acidic biochemical “soup” the muscle is sitting in, back to its normal levels.
  • Myofascial release – the surrounding tight myofascial tissue that feeds into and over the trigger points could also be restricted, causing further exacerbation of the area. Using this technique will give some length back to these structures and can alleviate the trigger point.

Once the hands on therapy has been applied it is not the end of treatment. The muscles with the TP’s will need to be stretched to help prevent their return. Postural correction and stability exercises for surrounding muscles may need to be followed. Changes ergonomically may need to be enforced to prevent falling back into poor habits. Also looking at ways of alleviating stress through improved sleep, meditation, breathing techniques and increase of general exercise.

All of these factors will need to be considered to provide long lasting benefit and avoid their return.

  1. Travell & Simon (1999). Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual
  2. Shah et al (2008) Uncovering the biochemical milieu of myofascial trigger points using in vivo microdialysis: An application of muscle pain concepts to myofascial pain syndrome. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies
  3. Simons, (2008), New Views of Myofascial Trigger Points: Etiology and Diagnosis, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Back Pain Myth Busting Part 4

This series of blogs is to help bring some clarity with what to expect with back pain and what the evidence is telling us.

Next up are two biggies. How should I sit and can I lift with a spinal injury? Posture is an important factor with both positions but it’s understanding how it can be effective while recovering.

 

7 The perfect sitting posture may not exist

The body is designed to move. If we sustain a position for too long, we end up loading an area more than it’s designed for. This can either be in a slouched position or even sitting erect. It’s important to alternate our sitting positions to avoid pain and adaptations (1). This can be done with changing sitting positions, getting up regularly and doing tasks in standing that you would normally do sitting (i.e. taking phone calls). Try to change position every 20minutes.

Knowing that movement through range in sitting is necessary to gain confidence in your spine instead of being rigid/protective. (2)

 

8 Exercise and resistance training

Lower back pain can cause people to fear and avoid certain activities that involve bending, lifting and twisting (3). However, it is important that we encourage this within a safe environment, to gain confidence and reach better outcomes.

Initially it may be sore practising these movements, but as mentioned previously it’s about understanding the type of pain you feel. This will help strengthen the spine and supporting structures, getting you back to lifting, running and jumping.

Studies have shown great benefits and long-term safety of various types of exercises (4) including high load resistance training (5).

 

1.     Zemp et al, (2013) In vivo spinal posture during upright and reclined sitting in an office chair. BioMed Research International.

2.     Baumgartner et al, (2012) The spinal curvature of three different sitting positions analysed in an open MRI scanner. The Scientific World Journal.

3.     Thomas et al, (2008) The relationship between pain-related fear and lumbar flexion during natural recovery from low back pain. Eur Spine J.

4.     Steele et al (2015) A Review of the Clinical Value of Isolated Lumbar Extension Resistance Training for Chronic Low Back Pain; American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

5.     Pieber et al (2014) Long-term effects of an outpatient rehabilitation program in patients with chronic recurrent low back pain; Eur Spine J