Have you ever heard the phrase, "I must have slept wrong"? How do you sleep "wrong"? I didn't know there was a right and wrong way to sleep. I thought you lie down, close your eyes and off you go into nappy's house for several hours. Maybe that's why I'm tired some days. I've been sleeping wrong.
Usually when a person shows up in the office with their head tilted to one side unable to move comfortably in almost all directions is when I hear, "I must have slept wrong". You may know this condition as a "crick in the neck". Many people mistakenly believe that the "crick" is a muscle strain and therefore that massage or stretching will help rid themselves of the problem. I think the spine is one of the regions of the body where muscles get blamed for a lot of problems. We generally don't do this in the chest, for example. I have never heard anyone say "Well, the reason you have chest pain is your chest muscles are too tight. We just need to rub them or stretch them and you'll be fine." Or, how about abdominal pain? Can you imagine stretching or rubbing your abdomen when you have gall bladder disease?
There are two types of "cricks":
- Pain in the neck
- The pain is around the shoulder blade.
In both cases, when you move your neck a certain way, you hurt a lot in one or both of these areas.
I have written other articles on pain in the shoulder blade, so today, I'll explain the crick with pain in the neck. The pain in the neck version is mostly from a sprained ligament. Here's how it happens. You fall asleep with your neck bent to the side more than usual (like on a fat pillow while lying on the sofa watching a movie). The position gradually stretches your neck muscles then begins to stretch the ligaments in your neck (specifically the capsular ligament and annular ligament). If you stay in the position long enough, you will sprain the ligament. A ligament sprain is a tear in the tissue ranging from mild to severe. Whenever you sprain a ligament, you will evoke an inflammatory response: the tissue swells and is painful. The swelling makes it difficult to move and the heightened sensitivity to motion from the inflammatory agents makes a normal motion, like turning your head, painful.
If you're wise, the acute stage of inflammation typically last 10-14 days. If not, and you continue to injure the healing tissue by being too active, you will experience symptoms for a longer period of time. As your tissues heal, your pain will subside and motion will increase. But, sometime after the injury is when things seem to go wrong.
The biggest mistake people make is treating pain instead of solving pain. Pain is not the problem. Your injured tissue is the problem and if you don't understand what those tissues need (and why would you unless you have studied it?), you will search for something to chase the pain away. Completely understandable, but still a mistake. Things like Advil, Motrin, Aleve can make you feel better but as the pain abates, temptation rises. You resume your normal routine without constraint but if you stop taking the drugs, you notice your neck hurts. You say "Ahh, it's nothing. It hurts a little but it will go away." Hmmmm.....does it? Does your neck feel really normal? Can you do what you enjoy without reaching for the Advil?
You're probably wondering, "Well, what should I do?" Here's a tip. If you have a crick in the neck, whatever you do, don't stretch. Imagine stretching a sprained ankle. Probably wouldn't help much. It's the same problem in your neck. Respect the pain, slow down, and allow your body to heal. Easy gentle motions performed in a supported position will ease the discomfort and improve your movement. Exercise, especially aerobic, within the limits of your discomfort (and, this is not a contest to see who can be the next Braveheart) will help your body move through the inflammatory cycle and heal. Once your motion is normal and you have no symptoms, you can then gradually return to other forms of exercise.
I get some light-hearted teasing from my team because I have a habit of saying, "It's just not that hard". Well, it's true. Overcoming a crick in the neck is not very hard when you understand a few basics like tissue healing. OK. So, now you know. And, you know my position on mistakes: a mistake out of ignorance is just a mistake. A mistake when you know better is stupidity. Be smart.
Because we receive so many questions about neck pain, neck noises, neck cracking, etc., we will be adding two new seminars next year. One for health care professionals and one, that's free, for the public. Both seminars will unravel the mystery of neck pain. We will be posting the seminar dates soon, so sign up as soon as you can because I'm sure they will both be full in a hurry.
Hope to see you there. In the meantime, be well.
Make today count.
P.S. We are proud to announce our newest product release today, the SpineSaver Kit. At only $5, you can expect tremendous relief for your spine no matter your profession or sport. This kit includes both the SpineSaver ball and instruction handout. Buy your kit today!
P.P.S We also provide competitive bulk pricing for clinicians who want to pass the SpineSaver Kit on to their clients.