Neck

"Practice looking down at a sharp angle, without tilting your head. This is a great way to preserve dignified carriage of your head and neck. If you always tilt the head down when looking down, your posture will suffer.” - SH


Neck

I got into Feldenkrais® due to a severe neck injury; my full extension high-impact whiplash happened in 1987. I had unrelenting pain for 5 years, and only found relief from The Alexander Technique (first, From Judith Stransky, a very talented LA based Alexander teacher) and then from weekly Feldenkrais FI® (Functional Integration®) sessions from a masterful, and highly accomplished Feldenkrais® Practitioner, Pauline Sugine. I went into my Feldenkrais® Training with the express intent of learning and remembering every possible thing I could, to relieve neck pain such as I was experiencing.

I was quite naïve and only slowly learned that everything about movement and posture and our psychology is going to have an effect on the neck. That is probably truer about the neck than any other part of the body, because the neck is farthest from the feet and anything below the neck will affect the neck.  But nonetheless, I gathered so much information that I am still trying to process all of it.  Now, 26 years after entering my training, I have a little perspective.  I have sorted out the essential items for neck pain relief.  Yet I know for sure that before we think of “fixing” a neck problem, it is just common sense to look at the rest of the body first, to see what is contributing to the neck pain. Otherwise, we might spend many sessions trying to fix neck pain, working on the neck, when the real problem was an untreated ankle sprain 25 years ago, or a pelvic torque or fixity or a spinal scoliosis, or perhaps a shoulder issue. Without addressing these primary causes, treating neck pain as if it comes from the neck is a hopeless and thankless task. I wasted many precious hours in my early years of practice doing that.  No more.  Now I look elsewhere, almost always, and often for many sessions, before I can even think of working on a person’s neck. And then, usually, the neck problem is either gone, or quickly and easily resolves.

I have written extensively about neck pain in my upcoming e-books and elsewhere on this site. As well, my YouTube Channel has much to say about neck pain relief. So here, I am going to just briefly hit the highlights, the most important things that are often missed by clinicians and others, including yoga teachers, MDs, PTs and Chiropractors:

Chin Level – Keep the chin level, especially in prolonged sitting, like at a computer or in meditation posture.

Quiet Neck – do not gesture or “whiplash” the head around quickly and semi-violently as part of your habitual conversational style. If you are doing that (and about 3-5 % of people with neck pain are doing this) you do not need to look any farther for the source of chronic neck or back pain. The key concept is quiet neck. They need to learn to speak without activating neck muscles. For some, this is a real challenge and they need to put their own hands on their neck to monitor the process.

About Head Forward Posture In standing or sitting, center of ear should be even with center of shoulder, or even farther behind than center of shoulder. When head is forward, it took you many years and thousands of repetitions of bad habits to create that situation. It cannot, and let me repeat cannot, be corrected in the moment, not by pushing the chin in, not by stiffening the spine and throwing the low ribs forward and not by pulling the shoulders back. Stop doing those things! Those behaviors may appear to help temporarily, but long term they make it worse. They communicate, as body language, as neurotic or compulsive, repeating actions that don’t work, but you keep on doing it because someday maybe it WILL work. It is insane. Usually nobody ever has told a person to do those things, they just “figured it out on their own”. As well, those behaviors divert your energy and intelligence from what might actually help you. You should know that those things, to a practiced or professional eye, are really stupid, and communicate self-abuse, lack of postural intelligence and dogmatic will-power with very little skill and not much real proactive and effective thinking going on inside that skull.

A wiser course would be to take guidance from an experienced professional who has had many decades of successful practice in this arena. Popular cultural wisdom is not going to help you, either. The truth about head forward is that you need strategies that actually work, willingness to change long-standing habits and some patience for many weeks or months or years to partially or fully correct head-forward posture. Elsewhere on this website I have given many such strategies and in my book are many more.

 

Eye and Neck Pain

  1.  If you look down many hours a day at a computer, your eyes will want to also look down even as you stand and walk. Your head may accommodate this desire of the eyes by tilting chin too high (which seems counter-intuitive), so the eyes are looking down all the time all day long. The eyes will like that. For some persons that has become a lifetime habit. Or, the head may tilt down due to eyes looking down (because it is a deep reflex for the head to follow the eyes), but then to look around at people or at the horizon; one has to strain the eyes to look up (because the head is now tilted down). Often, this is too much strain on the eyes to look up, therefore it is back to keeping the chin too high. It can go both ways or either way as a chronic habit. If it goes the second way, head tilted down all the time, they become this depressed, downward gazing person (as they stand and walk) while rarely looking up. In any event, the head and neck is not finding a restful middle ground.  The problem here is that chin-too-high creates neck and back compression, pain, and even numbness and shooting pains in the hands, fingers or wrists. And head tilted down is even worse, especially psychologically. 
    • The solution is not to force your chin to stay level, although that will help. A quicker path would be to PRACTICE LOOKING UP, to counter-balance all of that habitual looking down. What do I do? I sit up front, whenever there is a large projection screen happening. That forces me to look up. I keep my chin in while doing that. I watch movies from the front row. We can learn good eyeball mobility this way too. Many times a day I enjoy remembering to look up more, and into the far distance with open focus.  I remember my crown chakra and look up there, from “the inside”. Sounds strange but it works. I do a forward bending leg stretch daily, 18 repetitions, with my chin tucked in, while looking up strongly. This is like weight lifting for the eyeball muscles that we use to look up. I use a timer on my computer to remind me to take breaks and look up and around (and other things as well) so I don’t spend hours obsessively looking down at close focus. No matter what we are doing at a computer, such a thing CANNOT be healthy.  I have had downward trending eyes most of my life; I have to keep working on this issue. In these ways the eyes won’t be interfering so much with the carriage of the head and neck. We want eyes that can look up, or down, quickly or slowly, near or far, for prolonged periods or momentarily, with no strain and equal facility each way.
    • Our immediate ancestors, before TV and computers, and when books were not so plentiful, had such eyes. I am convinced of this; in fact I have clear memories of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s growing up, when almost all adult eyes were much different than today. There was humor, easy mobility, a light “twinkle or sparkle to the eyes” and looking up was much more prevalent. There was an intelligence and wit that shined through such eyes; I don’t see that today.  The somatic observations in these three paragraphs is little understood, even by those professionals who should be smarter about such things. If you can understand it, and take action, you are way ahead of the game. It’s really pretty simple.  If your health professional does not appreciate this perspective yet, please teach him this somatic piece of information. It is important to know. Looking up and practicing this in many ways, without tilting the head up, is more important to long-term neck pain relief than most people could believe.
  2. As you walk and stand, look at the horizon, look at people, and do not look down unless momentarily, and for good reason (for instance, some obstruction to your path). Otherwise your head will also tilt down with the eyes, and slide forward too, creating stooped and head-forward posture! All because you just have had the unconscious habit of looking down as you stand and walk. It is well worth any effort to be aware of this, and correct it.
  3. Fixity of eyes happens when we stare at computers and cell phones and tablets and TV screens. Immobile eyeballs means the head becomes over-reactive, and jerks and lifts and turns far beyond what is natural or healthy. That’s because the low brain insists on knowing what is happening in your immediate environment; if mobile eyeballs are not happening, the low brain (whether you want this to happen or not) is going to begin hyper-mobilizing the head; our poor neck does all the work which the eyeballs should be doing. The head is as heavy as a bowling ball. The solution here is to learn how to re-create mobile eyeballs. There is a lot to learn there, and you can begin by doing eye exercises found online.
  4. Practice looking down at a sharp angle, without tilting your head. This is a great way to preserve dignified carriage of your head and neck. If you always tilt the head down when looking down, your posture will suffer.  

 

 

Here are some more major points about the neck. These are covered in great detail elsewhere on this site, and also on my YouTube Channel and upcoming e-books.


About Blaming the Neck. The sooner you can stop doing this, the quicker you can heal. Our habits create our troubles, my belief (I have never seen anything to contradict this) is that any injury or accident we receive, is a gift from the universe, so that we can learn what we need to learn, to progress and move ahead in life.

The Global Approach is Best especially for neck pain. Everything on this website will help neck pain. Try to avoid focusing on the neck as the problem.

About the Tailbone. This should be our main sensation and thought when we think about or remember our pelvis. Little kids have innocent pelvises just like that; they have a tailbone. Most western adults do not. There is a lot to say, a lot to learn, but for now, just start thinking about your tailbone, sensing your tailbone, make that your first thought when you think of your pelvis, instead of all that other stuff (which does not help us somatically).

Where is Top of the Neck? It is between the ears, and without at least intellectually knowing this basic fact, you can’t have good neck movement. Please Google “Steve Hamlin Neck Pain” and you will hit my viral video on this topic. Top of neck is at the level of the cheekbones, not at chin level, as most believe. Most of the functional movement of the neck (rotation of head, flexion and extension of head and neck) happens at C1 and C2, the topmost vertebra of the neck. Most people, not knowing this, are grossly overusing the lower vertebra of the neck (C3, C4, C5, C6) and this is actually a little bit like whiplashing the head around all day long. No wonder you have neck pain!

About One-Sided Neck Pain. This hints at mal-alignment or scoliosis, or one-sided habits that have become chronic and unconscious (like chewing food always on one side of the mouth). If your neck pain is chronic and on one side (same side) then it is important that you work with a somatic professional to “tease out” the hidden causes.

The Tongue and Neck Pain. The tongue is “pre-spinal” meaning primitive creatures have a mouth and tongue before they evolve to have a spine. How we sense and use our own tongue has a huge influence on what is happening to our spine, our ability to sense it and how we do that, especially the neck. Google “Myo-Functional Therapy” for more on this. There is a lot to learn; don’t ignore this topic, as I did for too many years. I do my myo exercises religiously every morning and afternoon. If I lapse my sleep apnea gets quickly worse! Briefly, good “tongue hygiene” means it can rest easily and naturally at the roof of the mouth, that we keep our lip sealed all day and night (I tape my lips before bed) since otherwise the tongue will go down and forward as we swallow, the tongue should have been mentored to suck up and back and easily swallow (where tongue describes the same movement as when you say the word “Butterfly” slowly) with the mouth OPEN (as in prolonged breast feeding, which most of us did not get). Most any person with neck pain or with head forward posture cannot even do ONE repetition of swallowing with mouth wide open, with correct tongue movement. Yet breastfeeding babies do this hundreds of times a day.

About Whiplash. We all get them in this modern culture. It goes along with driving a car. Once you have your first whiplash, your life will change, and not for the better. Many people have told me this; they have felt the truth of this in their own body. Physical therapy, allowing the neck to heal, a neck brace, etc. are all good and necessary. As well, you need patience since it can take years for the ligaments and other tissues in the neck to heal from a severe whiplash. But most people end up with a stiff neck, even when “fully healed”. To fix this, you need to get involved in the Feldenkrais Method®. That will minimize the long-term negative effects of a whiplash.

Cooking the Low Brain. This is what happens when you ballistically gesture with your head, or when your head is chronically too far forward. The over-worked neck muscles get hot, and actually heat up the low brain. As Dr. Griner says in his wonderful little book What’s Really Wrong with You, this overheating of the low brain is a prime cause of all autoimmune diseases. I often tell such people to feel their own neck (hot!) and then feel my neck (cool!). This often will convince them that they have lots of somatic work to accomplish. With my years of experience, I can now look at a person, and know (with good accuracy) just how hot or cool their neck would feel, if I were to touch it. This comes from working with so many clients over the last 25 years.

About Worker’s Compensation and Neck Pain. I am throwing this in as a cautionary note. I worked for some time at PT center, which had many Workers’ Compensation patients. The PT told me: “Steve, don’t expect to be too effective with these people. Whenever you get close to a breakthrough, they will block you. They’ll even get angry and do anything to divert you from being effective. They are extremely clever at this, and it is all unconscious for the most part. They are not eager to go back to work, and they are dependent on that money and they truly, really, do NOT want to heal, not matter what they say or how they try to convince you otherwise.” My experience there fully confirmed this, with no exceptions. The usual scenario, as we got close to “fixing” their pain was they’d launch into a reprise of the history of their injury, how much it hurt, how unjust the universe was to them, what all their doctors have said about it, what their friends have said, what the MRI showed, ON and ON like that. They were basically reinforcing the reality of their injury and pain by doing that SO predictably. We should never do this, even mentally. Instead, move on with your life. Those who heal quickly from serious injuries and get on with their lives, do not do such things. 

Yet they all believed “in their heart” they were sincere and really wanted to heal. But that was not the reality. We are all human, and this scenario is very common; I can only say that, if we value our health, we should try to steer clear of Worker’s Compensation at every opportunity, or get out of that world as soon as we can. Of course there is a place for it, it is often essential; I am just pointing out the somatic and psychological implications. 

© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin  www.mybodycanlearn.com