The neck is about one of our most used connections of the spine (and well used in our lexicon) It is designed to be mobile and capable of great feats of movement and stability. Just remember the days you’ve arisen out of bed–even before getting up–you notice how stiff you became over night. Sometimes we say life is a pain in the neck. Some folks even still neck around a little.
The neck is just not an anatomical structure to be described of bones and soft tissues. It is a highly functioning arm of the nervous system and ourselves. Here I am concerned with looking at how to restore movement in the lower neck (in a particular direction).
In my practice of Physical Therapy, many people who come in with shoulder and neck problems usually have a problem in moving their lower neck and upper back spine. This area seems to become easily rigid. We often see degenerative changes of the spinal segments at the segments just above this juncture of neck and upper back. We often label seven neck segments with the top one starting as number one. So the fifth and sixth segment are very popular in showing these degenerative changes. To me this means that the area below is not participating in allowing movement to continue through these lower segments. By the way, we don’t just move our necks. Our bodies don’t move the neck. Our movements take place in the spine. Our patho-anatomical medical approach (getting a diagnosis of a problem based soley on the anatomy that has a dis-ease vs including a functional evaluation or how it is working in daily usage) can distort our perspective of how we look at how what is going on ie the problem.
Of course, the direction of mobility problem can be different for different causes and different people. Here I wish to share my observations of the problem at moving through this juncture of the neck (cervical spine) and upper back (upper thoracic spine). This junction is easily referred to as the cervical-thoracic junction or C/T junction.
What I find is that many people do not have very good side bending of the lower neck. They often over move in the segments above. Also when you observe those with pain and dysfunction of the neck and shoulder complex, it is worth evaluating how well they are side bending at this lower neck to C/T area.
Of course there are problems of stability in the mid neck and also upper neck. There are sometimes mobility problems of the upper cervical region as well. Note the junctional areas of the spine are very important in transmitting forces THROUGH the area (versus into the area).
Example of Moving the Lower Neck Spine
Here is a short video I did in working with someone. I hope it will explain a bit about how you might start to work on learning to move this area. Note it spends most of the time trying to coach one to move the lower area while learning to stabilize the above area. It seems un-natural for many who have a movement deficit in this area.
Remember the learning is not just about correcting and moving better. Ideally one must spend a good amount of time feeling and practicing these directions. Often it takes some coaching. A mirror can be invaluable in this type of training.
Enjoy the practice. Those who don’t move this lower neck area well will be rewarded with proper practice. You will find that once you can create some movement here sometimes your shoulder and neck problems become less.
Try it out and let me know what you find.