Why are my neck and shoulder muscles so tight?
Saul Yudelowitz BSc (Hons)
There are many scientific books relating to how fascia of the body is connected and so when a patient presents with a pain in one area, what they are actually saying is this is where the compensation has broken down. When ones biomechanics are poor the body adopts a multi compensation pattern. Where compensation breaks down is where the patient experiences pain. However it is very likely that the cause of the pain is in a different area. To explain this to my patients I use the analogy of an aircraft. There are three planes that an aircraft can move in.
If the plane were to pitch this would be the equivalent of the nose moving up or down, when viewed from tail to nose. So if the nose moves up the tail would move down.
If the plane were to roll this would be the equivalent of the wing moving in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction, when viewed from tail to nose. So if the right wing moves clockwise the left would also move clockwise.
If the plane were to yaw this would be the equivalent of the wing moving to the right or the left, when viewed from tail to nose. So if the right wing moves forward towards the left the left wing will move backward towards the right.
The human body also moves thought these three planes however they are referred to as the Sagital, Frontal and Transverse planes respectively. As you already know humans can move through more than one plane simultaneously.
So if we now replace the aircraft with the pelvis and the spine we can have a good understanding of how movement in one area effects movement in different areas.
If the pelvis were to pitch up there would be a decrease in the lumbar lordosis (curve of the spine in the lower back area) this would cause the head to pitch down. If you are sitting on a chair with your feet on the floor, allow your lower back to loose its natural curve by tipping the pelvis upward. Completely relax the rest of your body and you will find that you are looking at the floor. Now keeping the body relaxed move the pelvis down thereby increasing the lumbar lordosis, this will move the head backwards. It is a very common finding to see patients sitting with a reduced lumbar lordosis or a pelvis that is pitched up. In order for them to look at there computer screen they now have to extend the cervical spine and this leads to very tight muscles around the shoulders and back of the neck area. The human body functions best when it is balanced, the spine has a number of joints (factes), which are not designed to have a weight-bearing roll. If you over extend the lumbar spine by tipping the pelvis down the facets become weight bearing and this leads to pain and degeneration. Many people experience this in their neck when there is hyperextension in the cervical spine from sitting with a rounded lower back or reduced lumbar curve. The point here is, the lumbar curve needs to be balanced and there is not a one size fits all formula to follow. Your curve is as unique as your eye color.
There is an additional point to understand about the biomechanics of the spine and how the neck and shoulder muscles can tighten up. From a biomechanical perspective the spine is very similar to a fishing rod. They both have a thicker base and a thinner end. Small movements at the thicker lower spine produce amplified movements at the thinner neck end. If you were to take a fishing rod and oscillate it in your hand, the thinner end would move not only faster but also through a larger range of movement than the handle. Our spine is no different however if you were to do the oscillations with a weight that is approximately 7% of the weight of the fishing rod attached to the narrow end, you can now begin to see how hard the muscles in your neck will contract to keep your head on your shoulders! The lumbar spine has a smaller range of movement that the cervical spine, this is also reflected in the type of muscles found in these areas. This allows the human body to place the eyes and ears level with respect to the horizontal so that our eyes and ears can work correctly. The muscles in the neck will not only stabilize the head on the shoulders it will also align the head, so that typically work very hard!
If you are interested in knowing how to address a tight neck and shoulder problem, contact us to book in for a treatment session
The information contained in this Newsletter was prepared from medical and scientific sources, which are referenced and are believed to be accurate and reliable. The information herein should not be used to treat or to prevent any medical condition unless it is used with the full knowledge, compliance and agreement of your personal physician or other licensed health care professional. Readers are strongly advised to seek the advice of their personal health care professional(s) before proceeding with any changes in any health care program.