back pain image

Tight Neck Muscles — A Pain In The Neck

Neck pain often arises from tight neck muscles that pull the neck vertebrae slightly out of alignment, called subluxation, which then impinge on sensory nerves entering the spine between these vertebrae.  These sensory nerves relay that information back to the brain setting off the alarm in the form of pain.  Compression or stretching of the motor nerves that exit the spine at the same places may cause twitching , numbness, or weakness of the muscles supplied by these nerves, most frequently in the arms and hands.

It is the rare individual who has not experienced some discomfort, tightness or pain in the neck area.  This is not surprising, considering that the neck not only has to hold up a virtual bowling ball in the form of a 10-15 pound head all day long but also keep it centered over the spine while the body is in constant motion.

Tight neck muscles can also cause headaches.

Tight neck muscles can also cause headaches, such as tension, migraine, and cluster headaches, because of their various attachments to the head, specifically the occiput (back of the head) and the mastoid process of the temporal bone right behind the ears.  When the muscles contract, they pull on the occiput or temporal bone, creating a misalignment of these bones along the sutures, setting off the sensory nerves embedded in the fibrous connective tissue of the sutures.

Furthermore, a shifting of the head bones along the suture lines may stretch or compress the cranial nerves that exit the skull base through small spaces, along or near the suture lines between the occiput, sphenoid, and temporal bones.  These cranial nerves allow us to see, hear, smell, taste, chew, make facial expressions, speak, swallow, digest, breathe and have a regular heart beat.

This explains why neck and head pain often are accompanied by a myriad of other symptoms related to these bodily functions.

Tight neck muscles can cause a lot of other problems too.

The neck is the gateway to the brain.  It contains major blood vessels to supply the brain with oxygen.  Thus, tight neck muscles or misaligned vertebrae may compress or stretch these blood vessels, reducing the blood supply and, consequently, oxygen delivery to the brain.  Symptoms of low oxygen supply include fatigue, fuzzy thinking, poor memory and lack of motivation.

The neck also provides passage to the trachea and the esophagus, and it contains the larynx and the thyroid.  Consequently, tight neck muscles or misaligned vertebrae can compress, stretch or shift these important structures, potentially making it difficult for us to swallow, speak or breathe.

In addition, the spinal cord passes through the neck to enter the head.  Furthermore, spinal nerves enter and exit the spinal cord through the spaces between the neck vertebrae, called intervertebral foramina, where they might become stretched or compressed by tight neck muscles or misaligned neck vertebrae.

These spinal nerves supply the muscles of the upper back, the neck, the shoulder blades, and chest, as well as the arms, hands, and fingers.  It is easy to see how tight neck muscles not only can cause discomfort or pain in the neck but also in the upper back, shoulders, and down through the arms, hands, and fingers.

There are many causes of tight neck muscles.

The causes of tight neck muscles are many:  poor posture, emotional or mental stress, asymmetric use of the neck, back, or arms at work or at play, injury to any of these areas, carrying a heavy bag primarily over one shoulder, or across the chest, and so forth.

What can be done about tight neck muscles? Well any treatment option must be aimed at removing the root causes of the tension. Body work, such as any form of massage, acupuncture or acupressure, shiatsu, stretching, yoga, tai chi, and qigong, as well as deep breathing exercises will all help to release the neck tension. If you are interested in an herbal technique, flower essences can help to balance the emotions and calm the mind.

My specialty is craniosacral therapy. This alternative therapy is gentle and particularly effective in releasing the tension and restrictions in the body caused by tight neck muscles.