Chronic Neck Tension & Pain – The Missing Piece to The Puzzle
Chronic neck tension is one of the most common complaints of individuals seeing chiropractors and physical therapists alike. Many people experience headaches due to chronic tension in their neck and upper back and don’t even know that the constant tension is the cause.
If you feel chronic tension in your neck or you have those knots in your shoulder that no matter what you do, always return, then this article is for you.
Let me first say that this article is not for the person that has never seen a chiropractor. If you haven’t had your neck properly adjusted (aka manipulated) by a professional, then that can always be an initial place to start.
Rather, this article IS for the person that has been to multiple chiropractors, multiple physical therapists, every massage therapist in town, etc. This is for the person that no matter how much you stretch your neck, it always feels tight the next day or even the next hour.
Once again, if this is you, keep reading!
Muscles of The Upper Back – Upper Cross Syndrome
To understand why you may be having chronic tension or pulling on your neck and upper back, its best to start with the muscles involved and how they may be involved. The best basic concept to base your understanding of why you have neck tension is to learn more about a condition called upper cross syndrome.
Traditionally speaking basic upper cross is a tightening (over-activity) of the muscles in the neck and shoulders like the suboccipital, levator scapula and the upper trapezius.
The front muscles of the chest including pec major and pec minor then become shortened and tight.
The opposing muscles in the back such as the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius muscles then become weak or inhibited and the neck flexors like the scalenes and sternocleidomastoids (SCMs) become weak also. (see pictures)
This pattern of muscle weakness is very common in our society and can be exacerbated by long hours on computers, phone time, video games, etc.
These muscles can be assessed by using one of oldest tools in our tool shed, the manual muscle test. These muscle tests are taught in all physical therapy, chiropractic and medical schools.
Each case of upper cross syndrome has different muscle strength and weakness patterns. This can vary by day and vary by person, but balance is the end goal.
Traditionally to treat upper cross syndrome, the weak muscles (usually the upper back muscles) are strengthened, and the tight muscles (usually the pecs and upper traps) are given therapy to help them elongate or relax.
But what about when that doesn’t seem to relieve the neck tension or the pain? It is a common thing for therapist to blame everything on posture, work environment, pillows or beds. We have been using these typical excuses for years. In the 80s we called them “ergonomics” and in 2018 we all know that if you don’t have a standing desk that you will never have good posture, right? Well I am going to have to disagree on this one.
The simplest example is to ask other people that do your same job if they have the same neck pain that you have. The reality is that only some people experience neck tension while others with WORSE posture or WORSE health seem to get by pain free.
Because Professional Applied Kinesiology pays special attention to muscle tests, there have been some critical correlations that have been able to be made. In my A.S.K. (Anderson Specific Kinesiology) technique I have consistently found certain clinical correlations with chronic neck tension and upper back pain that are worthy of sharing for the patient that is endlessly and often needlessly suffering.
Neck Pain Due to Weak or Inhibited Muscle Dysfunction
One thing I have noticed over time is that there are three main muscles that go weak or dysfunction that create the chronic upper cross syndrome or relentless neck tension and pain. The three main muscle groups are the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi muscles and the lower trapezius muscles.
The Hidden Source of Chronic Neck Pain
One thing that sets my protocol apart from other functional medicine offices is that I use professional muscle testing to correlate a weak muscle with other conditions. While many other people view the internal chemistry of the body as separate from the muscles of the body, applied kinesiology provides a bridge between the two. Essentially what Professional Applied Kinesiology indicates is that you can correlate a structural problem (muscles and bones) with an internal problem like digestive discomfort or seasonal allergies, etc.
This revolutionizes your options for treatment of your chronic neck tension.
It opens the doors to new means of healing chronic neck pain through allowing us to consider other factors that may be causing muscular dysfunction.
This may be a foreign concept to many, but “applied kinesiology” has been taught in the chiropractic field for many years and is not a tool to be used by itself, but rather in conjunction with a complete history, orthopedic tests, lab tests, etc.
The 3 Main Organs of Chronic Neck Tension
As I mentioned above, the three main muscle groups I find dysfunctioning in chronic neck tension cases are the rhomboids, the lats and the lower trapezius muscles. Each one has a correlated organ relationship that is important to observe in the chronic case.
Rhomboids and the Liver Connection
In my approach to chronic neck tension and in upper cross syndrome, there is often dysfunction of the rhomboid muscles. The rhomboids are connected to the liver. This means that anything that is affecting the liver can create a rhomboid muscle dysfunction and create a weak rhomboid pattern.
The Rhomboid Muscle
The rhomboid muscle group is responsible for connecting the shoulder blade with the spine. It helps to keep the shoulder blade pressed tight to the rib cage and to rotate the shoulder blade. If you have sore muscles or trigger points between your shoulder blades, you may have a rhomboid problem
What Stresses the Liver?
Now that you know that any problem associated with the liver can create a rhomboid problem and thus chronic neck tension, then you need to know what can cause liver stress. Stress to the liver can be caused by excessive sugar or carbohydrate intake, caffeine (coffee), steroid hormones (or hormone replacement therapy), histamine (food allergies), heavy metals, and fungal infections. Often times the most difficult part of recovering from chronic neck pain is stopping over-the-counter and/or prescription pain medications. Both of these create large amounts of stress on the liver.
By addressing stress that you are putting on your liver, you can restore rhomboid function which is quite often a large piece of the puzzle to eliminating neck pain and restoring proper posture.
Latissimus Connection to the Pancreas
The latissimus muscles are correlated to the pancreas muscles and thus can often dysfunction, Pancreatic problems are extremely common these days with type II diabetes and hypoglycemia ravaging the country due to our highly processed and refined food choices composed of extremely high amounts of simple sugars.
The Latissimus Muscle
The latissimus dorsi muscle is responsible for bringing your arm behind your back, pulling down like in a pullup motion and literally connecting your mid to low back to your arm. It is involved in rowing motions and in the most basic function of walking. The latissimus is the primary muscle that holds your shoulders down toward the ground. Without a proper functioning muscle, you will find that your shoulders elevate and that the trapezius muscles become overly tight. Those trapezius
What Stresses the Pancreas?
Ok, not only dairy, but dairy is a common sensitivity in those that experience chronic neck pain and tension. For those that don’t know that dairy can cause pancreatic problems and blood sugar problems, read here below:
“Studies have suggested that bovine serum albumin is the milk protein responsible for the onset of diabetes… Patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus produce antibodies to cow milk proteins that participate in the development of islet dysfunction… Taken as a whole, our findings suggest that an active response in patients with Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (to the bovine protein) is a feature of the autoimmune response.” New England Journal of Medicine, July 30, 1992
While diabetes from eating excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates like bread is likely more common, dairy overlaps with the latissimus and the next muscle we will talk about, the lower trapezius and thus can often be a home run with neck tension.
The biggest offender to the pancreas is stress. While most people talk about stress and the adrenal glands, it turns out the adrenal glands deal with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol pretty well. The pancreas on the other hand responds to stress poorly and much more often prefers low-grade stimulation. This means that stimulants such as coffee, pre-workout drinks and green tea can wreak havoc on the latissimus muscle.
Lastly, protein deficiency is a huge problem for the pancreas. The adrenals and pancreas work together all day in order to maintain blood sugar levels. The easiest way to take that load off of the pancreas is to increase your protein intake. As I stated in my previous article (click here) I have a minimum protein intake requirement for my patients that are healing from any injury of 90 grams per day. Even if you are eating a clean diet based upon whole foods, protein deficiency can wreak havoc on your blood sugar every day.
By addressing the stress to the pancreas, you can strengthen your latissimus muscles in order to give the back and shoulders the support it needs and taking the stress off of the other neck musculature contributing to your chronic neck pain.
Trapezius Connection to Immune System (Most Common Cause of Neck and Shoulder Pain)
The lower and middle trapezius are connected to the immune system. Due to the shape of this muscle (see images) it is a broad muscle that extends from the base of the skull down to the mid-back, where most people experience their neck pain. With todays increase in immune system problems, this has become more common than ever.
The Mid and Lower Trapezius Muscle
“The trapezius has three functional parts: an upper (descending) part which supports the weight of the arm; a middle region (transverse), which retracts the scapula; and a lower (ascending) part which medially rotates and depresses the scapula.” In upper cross syndrome many physicians are checking for “winging scapula”. This can be caused by inability of the mid and lower trapezius to stabilize the scapula while using the serratus anterior muscle.
As far as its direct correlation to neck tension, the shape of the muscle clearly shows how it can pull downward on the muscles and fascia of the neck creating that chronic tightness many experience. When the immune system is dysfunctioning or hyper-vigilant this will create significant tightness of the neck.
Immune System Stressors
The immune system is a complicated system that has countless number of irritants that can create stress and alter its function. In this article I want to focus on the 2 most common factors that will create neck tension, based upon my clinical experience.
The first and most connected irritant to the immune system is food sensitivities. I have yet to see a case of unrelenting neck and shoulder pain that is not highly correlated with a food sensitivity. The most common food sensitivities are gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, nightshades and food coloring. Nearly all of my chronic patients are required to perform an individualized elimination protocol test in order to determine their unique food sensitivities. If you are at home reading this and can’t make it to my office, a Paleo style diet will eliminate most of these food sensitivities.
Stealth infection is the #2 factor that constantly bombards the immune system. As gut health is greatly compromised, and we are dealing with more low grade infections than ever; optimizing our defenses against invaders is becoming more difficult. In our office we use many herbs to stimulate the immune system, supports its processes and effectively eradicate low-grade infection. Remember, low-grade or stealth infections don’t create fevers or nausea like the typical illness, but rather produce symptoms such as neck tension, painful or achy joints, constant fatigue, etc.
By far the most common secret remedy to resolving chronic neck tension in my office is discovering your unique food sensitivity and avoiding chemical toxin overload. The great thing is this can be started at home and eating a healthy diet will benefit your whole body all while relieving neck tension.
Neck Tension Relief Conclusion
If you have been experiencing chronic neck tension and pain that has been unresponsive to typical therapies, then there is often more that can be done. While traditional methods of treating the pain can work for many people, there is a large group of people that will not respond because they have an underlying issue that needs to be resolved. Once the underlying issues such as immune imbalance, blood sugar stability and liver detoxification have been resolved, most patients start to notice that chiropractic adjustments hold, pain medication use decreases and neck tension is relieved.
If you are looking for a holistic and natural way to relieve your neck tension, please reach out to our office by scheduling a consultation online.