Disclaimer: Although I am a licensed physical therapist, I am not your physical therapist. Everything in this blog is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace any medical advice you have received from your medical doctors or physical therapists.
After completing this 6 part series you will know:
The difference between 3 common neck disorders
1. Neck instability
2. Muscular/posture related neck pain
3. Bulging or herniated disc
as well as
4. How to manage your pain
5. How to safely regain your range of motion
6. What exercises to do to improve your strength & posture
In parts 1-3 of this series you will get the basics on 3 common causes of neck pain. Keep in mind these are NOT the only causes for neck pain and you may not fall into any of these 3 categories. But the majority of people with mild to moderate neck pain will struggle with one or more of these 3 issues and will benefit from this 6 part series.
Part 1:Neck (cervical) instability or hypermobility
Neck (cervical) instability is when the vertebra in your neck can move beyond their normal amount, usually due to ligaments that are loose or stretched out. In other words your neck is hyper mobile and lacks the stability it needs to adequately support your head.
➜ Trauma to the neck, such as whiplash in a car accident, can cause damage to the ligaments surrounding the vertebrae in your neck leading to instability.
➜ Your genetic makeup could naturally make your ligaments more "loose" than the average person.
➜ Rheumatoid arthritis and other similar arthritic conditions can lead to cervical instability
If you have a mild case of neck instability you may experience symptoms like
Muscle stiffness and/or tenderness
Restricted neck motion
More moderate or severe cases of neck instability may experience
Numbness or tingling
*See your primary medical doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms
But, the hallmark signs of neck instability, regardless of how severe your case is include
The inability to hold your head up for extended periods of time
Feeling of fatigue in your neck
Your head feels "heavy"
Needing to "crack" your neck
↑ ↑ ↑
I list those as hallmark signs because those symptoms are what can differentiate neck instability from the other 2 common causes of neck pain. As you will soon see, the symptoms for a mild case of instability overlap with many other types of neck injuries.
Another factor to consider is if you have a history of being hyper mobile or loose in other areas of your body. (Remember, genetics can be an underlying cause for your neck instability)
Have you always had "loose" joints (but maybe tight muscles)?
Have you dislocated or subluxed another joint like your shoulder or knee cap?
If you answered "yes" to either of those you most likely have a history of being hyper mobile...
For a more objective test to determine if you are hyper mobile, check out the Beighton Test for Hypermobility below. This test is on a 9 point scale. The higher your score the more mobile you are...
Now, at this point you might be getting a little confused thinking "If I am hyper mobile, why are my muscles stiff and why do I have restricted neck motion?"
It does seem counterintuitive but the answer is simple...
When your non elastic soft tissues are loose (like your ligaments, fasica, joint capsule) your nervous system senses this instability and needs to find a way to correct this. So your nervous system, aka your brain, spinal cord and nerves, tell the muscles around your unstable joints to contract and generate tension to improve your stability.
In other words, your muscles try to help improve your joint instability by being in a constant state of tightness to protect your joints.
Your body means well but unfortunately this constant state of tightness leads to things like
➜ Restricted range of motion
So how do we fix this??
There is not much we can do about loose ligaments. BUT we can improve your joint instability by strengthening and re-training your postural/stability muscles! Remember those muscles that are now in a constant state of tightness because they are trying to help your stability? Well there are even smaller muscles underneath those tight muscles that connect directly to the vertebra and whose purpose is solely to stabilize your neck.
When we teach those small stability muscles in your neck how to work properly again ↓
You gain stability in your neck
You improve your neck pain
Your larger neck muscles finally begin to release their constant state of tightness
Hip hip hooray!
If you're thinking a neck instability seems to be your problem, stick around for parts 4-6 where we dive into how to improve your strength and stability. If you think your neck pain isn't due to an instability stick around for parts 2 & 3 to learn about posture related neck pain and herniated discs.
Sign up below to get parts 2-6:
➜ Muscular/posture related neck pain
➜ Herniated discs
➜ 3 steps to decrease your pain
➜ How to get your full range of motion back
➜ The exercises you need to say goodbye to your pain for good