Why Your Neck Might Feel Unappreciated

Have you ever had a job where you felt unappreciated?  And it wasn’t until you stopped doing the job that people noticed how good you were at it?  Our body has many structures and organs that feel the same way.  They work tirelessly every second of the day, and we don’t appreciate what they do until they stop working properly.  The neck is a great example of this.

As we all know the neck joins our head to our body.  It allows us to look from side to side, as well as up and down.  But did you know that even when it’s not moving your neck is working hard?

Throughout the joints and muscles in our body there is an array of nerve endings.  These sensors constantly feed information back to our brain, often without us being aware of them doing so. These sensors provide the brain with feedback:  including the position of our joints and muscles, if they are moving, and in what direction and speed. When the muscles aren’t moving, these sensors tell the brain how stretched or tense they are.

We all know how dextrous our fingers and thumbs are, and how sensitive.  Yet per gram of muscle there are only 16 of these sensors in our thumb muscles.  In contrast, there are over ten times as many in the muscles where your neck and skull join.  That’s up to 242 per gram of muscle!

So why do the muscles at the top of our neck need so many sensors?  It’s because one of their main jobs is to keep our head still, often while the rest of the body is moving.  Your brain needs your eyes and ears to be still in order to use them effectively.  For example, if you are following a cricket ball, watching a bird fly or looking in a shop window while walking down the street, the muscles in your neck feed a huge amount of information to your brain.  The brain then uses this feedback to make adjustments to keep your head still. It’s like when a big cat chases its prey.  The cat’s legs move fast but its head is perfectly balanced.

So it should come as no surprise that when you injure the muscles and ligaments in your neck, not only is there often pain and loss of movement but you can experience dizziness, nausea and an inability to focus or concentrate.

This means that when the neck is injured it is not only important to regain movement and strength, but also the balance of your neck.  You need to re-teach the neck muscles what normal movement feels like.  Just like someone might use a wobble board or balance exercise to heal a sprained ankle, exercises for the neck are as important.

One of the most effective ways to rehabilitate this part of your neck’s function is with a head-mounted laser.  Recent research shows patients with a whiplash injury who lose accuracy in their joint position sense, can not only be re-educated using a head-mounted laser, but there is an associated significant decrease in pain and improvement in function.

Laser joint position sense retraining is available as an option as part of neck injury rehabilitation at all Physiotas clinics.

About the Author:

Gareth Bell is a Director and Physiotherapist at Physiotas.

Gareth is a Director of Physiotas. He graduated with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours) from the University of Nottingham (UK) in 1997. After spending almost a year backpacking around Australia he and his wife Jo emigrated to Tasmania in 2002.

Gareth opened the current Physiotas practice in Ulverstone in Feb 2013.

Gareth recently gained a Graduate Certificate in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy from La Trobe University. He is currently training to be an accredited practitioner of the Dr Dean Watson headache treatment approach. His professional interests include; neck pain and headache assessment and treatment; treatment of vertigo and dizziness; spinal pain; knee rehabilitation and dry needling.

His personal interests revolve around family life in one of the most wonderful places in the world – North West Tasmania! He enjoys playing the guitar and practicing his main hobby – magic!