I’ve learned that some of my pain of musculoskeletal origin can be ameliorated by strengthening weaker muscles and aligning my spine better.
For years, I had a severe problem with recurring cervicogenic headaches, which were probably caused by a pinch somewhere in my hypermobile cervical spine. But after doing Isometric exercises with my neck my vertebrae realign properly and I don’t get the headaches anymore.
This author, Rochelle Cocco has created a whole website describing exactly what she learned and did to surmount her own crippling neck pain.
My history of neck pain began at age 21 with a severe neck strain from doing head swings for a dance step. What followed were 30 years of neck pain, and trying to avoid the activities that triggered neck pain.
I had to be careful using my arms, especially my left arm—for lifting, pulling or pushing anything—actions you pretty much have to do with 3 young children.
To treat the pain, I wore soft-collars and used ice and heat packs, which sometimes helped and sometimes worsened the pain.
For many of those years the pain came and went. But in time the pain stayed.
That’s when I saw an orthopedist. An MRI showed how bad the arthritic changes in my neck were. At 3 levels, the discs had flattened, and from their ends, bone spur complexes poked into my spinal canal close to the spinal cord.
It seemed obvious that there wouldn’t be a miracle cure, yet I was hoping for some kind of pain relief. So my quest began and over the next six years I saw
- two neurologists,
- three spine surgeons,
- a neurosurgeon,
- two pain doctors,
- a professor of rehabilitative medicine,
- a rheumatologist,
- four physical therapists (for neck, shoulder and back), and
- an acupuncturist.
…and a partridge in a pear tree. :-)
- four courses of physical therapy for my neck,
- two for my torn rotator cuffs,
- one for my back and one for hips and knees;
- six weeks of acupuncture;
- repeat MRI’s;
- a CT scan;
- numerous epidurals,
- facet joint and trigger point corticosteroid injections;
- steroid dose packs,
- three months of oral low-dose corticosteroids;
- pain medication;
- muscle relaxants
I’m sure many of us chronic pain patients taking long-term opioids could list a similar collection of previous attempts at pain treatments that didn’t work for us.
Some treatments brought temporary improvement, but by the end of six years of going full bore trying to find relief, my neck still wasn’t much better, and now I had unresolved pain and limitation in both shoulders, my back, hips and knees.
All I’d managed to do was spend tens of thousands of my insurance company’s money plus thousands in co-pays from my own pocket.
Both paindoctors and at least one, if not all of the physical therapists, believed my next step was neck fusion surgery. But all three spine surgeons said that surgery was not warranted yet. My spinal cord didn’t show the internal changes that signal severe compression in the MRIs
So I was not going to have surgery, but I was still in pain and still a “neck cripple.”
I couldn’t tolerate any direct work on my neck. The pain ramped up severely with neck massage or manipulation of neck vertebrae, and also with any neck or arm exercise.
Hopeless. Anytime I used my arms, even to lift a dinner plate or change the bed sheets, my neck spasmed.
one day, as I happened to look at my profile in the fold–out mirror that was opposite a wardrobe mirror in my bedroom, I had an epiphany—not that I could cure my neck pain—but that I needed to look better; I needed to stand up straighter and stop looking like a tired, hunched over, old woman.
I pulled back my shoulders and was reminded of an exercise a physical therapist had shown me months before, not for my neck, but for my torn rotator cuffs. He called it “Fixing the Shoulder Blades.”
I did the shoulder blade exercise several times every day—and didn’t just go through the motions, but worked hard at gaining control.
Very importantly, I reminded myself frequently to straighten my back—so I wasn’t bent forward all the time—and to lift my chest upwards with a breath—
and here’s the crucial part:
…not just a few times a day but
all the time, every day.
It was about two or three months later that I realized….not only did I look better and feel better, but surprise, surprise…my neck pain was GONE.
So were the headaches, the strange facial pains and twitching, and the crunching in my neck when I turned my head. And best of all, I was able to use my arms again to carry almost anything, within reason, without my neck going into spasms.
A simple exercise, a decision to improve my posture. And finally, my chronic neck pain was gone.
Sounds too easy, doesn’t it? But it did take determination.
I’m astonished and kinda angry that such a simple, basic fix eluded me for so long and also the many medical professionals I sought help from, especially the physical therapists.
Why this web site?
All I ask of medical professionals, especially the physical therapists, is that when treatments aren’t working, stand back and really look at me, at my specific deficiencies.
If my posture is terrible, tell me, and explain why it is important to correct it and then what measures will help.
Don’t keep throwing out the usual one–size–fits–all treatments without getting at the root cause of the problem.
My neck situation seemed hopeless and as hard as I tried, I could not find the help I needed. …just in case there are others out there like me—in the same seemingly hopeless situation—maybe some of this information will help.
Why this web site, part 2.
Please remember, as with all information, no matter how competent or assured the messenger appears, always take with a large dose of skepticism.
Everyone’s situation is unique and no one solution works for all.
Make the most of physical therapy for neck and/or back pain. Ask the doctor to include postural assessment, and treatment if imbalance of postural muscles is found.
Ignoring poor posture will delay or prevent healing of both traumatic and overuse neck, shoulder and back injuries.
Improving poor posture will also help prevent other posture-related injuries, such as rotator cuff impingement from forward rounded shoulders, and toe/foot pain from forward-shifted center of gravity (more weight borne on the forefoot).
In my experience, physical therapy for neck pain will not give lasting relief unless hunched upper body posture and weakness in upper back muscles, especially those stabilizing the shoulder blades, is addressed early on.
Since faulty posture creates imbalances in muscles that stabilize and move shoulder, hip, and knee joints, physical therapy for these should also include a posture assessment and treatment. Treatment without addressing postural misalignment is counter-productive and a misuse of healthcare dollars. See “Fix the Posture“
May we all be works in progress forever, and celebrate the fact that we are—Marc and Angel Hack Life
The fixtheneck website has all kind of helpful information – here are the other pages:
- Overcoming Chronic Neck Pain
- Fix the Shoulder Blades
- Fix the Posture–Upper & Lower Body
- More Posture Exercises
- Posture and Pain
- Posture Topics
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- Articles: Posture, Pain etc.
- My Pain Story Links Contact
I’ve posted information about cervicogenic headaches several times before: