Pain or stiffness in the neck can be triggered by a wide range of factors, commonly poor posture, muscle strain, recent or historical injury, underlying medical conditions, long hours of sitting, stress, sleeping awkwardly, arthritis, osteoporosis or a herniated disc.
The head is heavy - on average about 5kg (10lb). Not only does the weight of the head need to be held up, but the muscles in the neck are at the same time responsible for the large, as well as more subtle, movements of the head.
The neck is beautifully designed to make these movements possible, but if there is a significant challenge to the neck, its versatile mobility makes it more prone to injury. Rolfing can help reverse existing anatomical patterning that has developed over time and that limits neck mobility. Keeping the neck mobile with gentle mobility exercises can also be a useful preventative measure.
The neck is attached to the upper back by muscles and fascia (connective tissue). As well as facilitating head movement, these muscles also secure the head and neck to the upper back.
When there are any imbalances or distortions in overall posture or body movement, the neck and head have to adapt. Over years, this can create an environment where neck pain is more likely. Everything from the shoulders down has an impact on the neck. Even a foot injury can ultimately end up as neck pain!
In the example above, you can see how the rounded upper back draws the head forward. The person then has to lift the chin in order to look straight ahead. This puts the neck into hyperextension which is not an optimum position for healthy neck function. It also requires additional muscle effort to hold the head in this position.
In today's world where many people spend extended periods of time hunched over computers, smartphones, or desks, the neck is often compromised. Often there is no pain at this stage, but a situation is being created where even a small sudden movement or a stressful day can trigger acute neck pain.
Pain can arise even in a perfectly aligned and well organised neck. This can result from overexertion, excessive physical activity, lifting heavy weights, pushing the body beyond its limits, or even acute emotional stress. The neck has a delicate structure that can be easily compromised by overuse or sudden movements, leading to discomfort and limited mobility. Yoga poses such as matsyasana above are perfectly fine for healthy necks, as long the pose is practised with alignment and respect for your personal body structure, and using safe and appropriate ways to enter and exit the pose.
Neck injuries are complex and individual. In Rolfing we first look to addressing any postural or movement imbalances in the body as a whole, before working more intensively on the neck itself. This approach aims to provide a long-lasting effect, rather than a 'quick fix' which will more likely result in the pain returning within a few weeks or months.
The way to deal with neck pain depends on the underlying cause and the nature of the specific situation in an individual. In more severe cases, surgery may be needed. But in many cases a course of non-invasive bespoke physical therapy along with body re-education, as part of a Rolfing 10-series, decreases or removes neck pain, and also provides a strategy for ongoing self-management to maintain a healthy and happy neck.