Tag Archive for: core

Shoulder Pain

Neck Pain Not Going Away? 3 Reasons Why

Over 30% of people report they have neck pain, and of those, 50% will continue to have problems without any real answers or solutions. The last 2 years of the pandemic saw people becoming generally less active, falling off their routines, and working from home in less than optimal “work stations”. It’s no surprise that people are suffering from more neck pain than usual.

Having been a mechanical spine pain specialist for the last 10 years – and a physical therapist for just over 20 – I can tell you that resolving neck pain is trickier than resolving back pain.

And there are some good reasons for that. Your neck is the most mobile area of your spine – which makes it more complicated to manage – and the muscles in your neck are a bit more fragile than some of the bigger muscles in your lower back. The way you strengthen muscles in your neck can’t be approached in the same manner you might tackle your lower back – for example.

While there are several reasons for your neck pain not going away – the biggest culprit I have found is inaccurate diagnosis. Without an accurate diagnosis – your neck pain treatment fails – and it’s more likely you’ll be prescribed injections or pills to relieve your neck pain and get stuck with this treatment regimen for the long-term.

Here are three reasons why the root cause of your neck pain might be getting missed – and why your neck pain just isn’t going away:

 

1. Your neck problem is disguised as shoulder pain:

Shoulder problems are confused with neck problems more often than you would think. If this happens – you risk spending weeks (or months) trying to resolve shoulder pain that is actually a neck problem. Not only will your shoulder pain not fully resolve – your neck pain won’t either – and could actually become worse. Because your neck is so mobile, it’s easy for nerves in your neck to get irritated and refer pain into the middle of your shoulder blade, top of your shoulder, or down the side of your arm. When you consider this, it makes sense why neck problems are so easily mis-diagnosed as shoulder problems. It’s a very common scenario that not only results in neck pain not going away – but persistent shoulder problems too. My general rule of thumb – if you’ve been working on a particular problem persistently and consistently for 2-3 weeks or more without significant improvement – something is missing. You’re either treating the wrong thing or have the wrong treatment approach. It happens a lot with neck pain so be sure to pay attention to this common error – especially if you’ve got coinciding shoulder pain.

2. Your core is weak:

Lack of core strength is commonly associated with back problems – but believe it or not – it can have a lot to do with neck pain too. Most people are familiar with how muscles and joints are connected – but did you know your muscles and organs are connected as well? They’re connected by a web of tissue called fascia – and this connection is often referred to as myofascial. “Myofascially speaking” – your deep neck muscles are connected to your core. If your core isn’t functioning properly – your neck will try to compensate and it will result in neck pain. Do you consistently feel neck pain or tightness every time you do a core workout? This could be a sign that your neck is compensating for your core – and there’s a good chance proper core strengthening is what’s missing. It could explain why your neck pain isn’t going away no matter how aggressively you treat it.

3. Not working with an expert:

The anatomy of your neck, more so than the rest of your spine, is fairly intricate and quite mobile. Not only does this require special care and accuracy when it comes to examining your neck, it makes it easy for someone who is not expertly trained to miss things. For example, one of the most common things I see is someone thinking that full range of motion has been restored in your neck when it hasn’t. If you start strengthening your neck when it doesn’t have full mobility, you can run into problems later on that result in persistent pain. Additionally, strengthening the muscles in your neck, especially in a neck that hurts, needs to be done carefully. The muscles in your neck were designed for stability – which is very different from say – the muscles in your legs – which are designed for power. You can’t approach strengthening them in the same way. All too often I see neck strengthening exercises that are too aggressive for the small muscles in your neck. This results in unnecessary neck tension – and delayed resolution of neck pain.

Generally speaking – if you’ve been suffering from neck pain for a while now – and despite trying lots of different treatments you’re still having problems – there’s a really good chance you’ve got the wrong treatment approach because you’ve been misdiagnosed. Don’t settle for relying on pills or injections for the rest of your life. And don’t undergo any kind of surgery or procedure until you’ve truly exhausted all possible causes of your neck pain. Ideally, find a neck pain expert and work with them, particularly one who prioritizes natural, movement-based solutions over pills and procedures. If diagnosed properly, it’s not only possible to get rid of your neck pain naturally, but learn to keep it gone all on your own.

 

Ready to get rid of your neck pain?

Check out this totally free guide on 7 Easy Ways to Get rid of Neck & Shoulder Pain to learn easy tips that are PROVEN to help your neck and shoulder pain – without pills, procedure, or surgery. CLICK HERE to get the free guide.

 Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH.  To get a free copy of her guide to taking care of back pain – click here.

neck pain

Neck Pain During Crunches? 3 Reasons why and what you can do.

Abdominal crunches are one of the most popular “ab exercises” around. It’s a move that emphasizes your upper abdominal strength more so than your lower. You start by lying on your back – typically hands behind your head and knees bent – then lift your head and chest off the floor – “crunching” your upper body into a C-shaped curve. 

Over the years, many healthcare and fitness professionals have dismissed this exercise entirely claiming its ineffectiveness for working the core. While I agree that it shouldn’t be the only core exercise you do – the abdominal crunch does have its place. When done correctly, mastering this move can help you get up from the floor, and sit up out of bed with more ease and less risk of injury. And of course, you see this move a lot in exercise classes, so it’s important to know how to do this move correctly without hurting your neck. 

If you’re feeling crunches in your neck instead of your abs – here are the biggest problems I see and why they might be hurting you.

     1. You’re not using your abs. 

This sounds pretty obvious, right? Of course you use your abs when you crunch. Anatomically-speaking – it would be impossible for you to perform this move without some form of engagement with your abs. But many people don’t engage their abs enough or in the right way. And this can result in neck pain.

Here’s what happens. 

If you don’t engage your abs enough or in the right way during a crunch – your neck will often kick in to try and help. Eventually your neck gets sore from this because your neck muscles aren’t designed to be the primary mover during a crunch. One easy tip to try next time you do a crunch is to make sure you inhale deeply – and then exhale as you begin to crunch. At the same time, check in with your neck. Make sure you can easily turn and wiggle it side to side. If that is challenging – then you are likely using your neck to help you crunch and your abdominal engagement could use some work.

    2. Your neck is in the wrong position. 

When you’re doing an abdominal crunch your neck position is critical. There is an illusion that your neck moves during the crunch but it should actually stay pretty stationary. The ideal position for your neck is to begin with a slight nod of the chin (like you’re nodding “yes”) and then keep it there. The rest of the curling motion will come from contracting your abdominals to move your trunk. As you curl up, you want to keep a nice C-shaped curve of your upper body – and keep a tennis ball’s distance between your chin and chest. 

Most people either curl their neck too much, or not enough. If your chin is touching your chest you’re curled too much – and you’ll experience strain behind your neck. And if you keep your neck too straight you’ll experience strain in the front of your neck. Another common mistake with neck positioning during a crunch is jutting your head forward. This will put strain in your upper neck right behind your head. While any of these positions will cause temporary discomfort in your neck – they could lead to more long-standing problems down the line if not corrected. 

     3. You have an underlying neck problem. 

Sometimes you will get all of the above right – and still have neck pain when you perform an abdominal crunch. This could be a sign that you have an underlying neck problem – and doing a lot of crunches has just exposed it.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you have a small bulging disc in your neck that you weren’t aware of, or you thought was “fixed”. The curled position of your neck during a crunch can exacerbate this problem, even if you are using your abs correctly and following every tip I just mentioned above. 

Pay attention to what you feel during and after performing an abdominal crunch. If you notice pain that shoots into your shoulder blade, or any numbness or tingling down your arm (especially if past your elbow) – these are clues you could have an underlying neck problem that is being aggravated by crunching. You might experience these symptoms during your crunches, or even up to several hours after. Either way, symptoms like this could be a sign there is more to your neck pain than simply incorrect crunch-technique or weakness in your abs. And it would be important to talk to an expert about this.

If you’re experiencing neck pain during abdominal crunches – hopefully these tips give you a better understanding why – but most importantly – please know this is a very common issue and you’re not alone.

It’s partly why I created Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health™

Although this program is primarily geared toward helping folks who’s back pain is keeping them from strengthening their core and exercising the way they want to…

We actually talk quite about about the relationship between your abdominals and your neck – and teach you how to “crunch” safely and correctly.

I’ve been personally teaching this program for the past 4 years – and previously – you could only do it live with me 1-2x per year…

But NOW – I’m excited to tell you that we’ve opened it up to the entire world!

We’ve had people signing up from all across the country right now – people who’ve been wanting to get help from me but couldn’t because of where they were located.

This program is not for everyone – but if you want to learn more and see if it might be for you – CLICK HERE.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilatesin Portsmouth, NH.  To get a free copy of her guide to taking care of back pain – click here. 

Neck Pain

Neck Pain During Crunches? Here’s Why & How to Avoid it

Abdominal crunches are one of the most popular “ab exercises” around. It’s a movement that emphasizes upper abdominal strength. You start by lying on your back, typically with your hands behind your head and knees bent. You then lift your head and chest off the floor, “crunching” your upper body into a C-shaped curve.

Over the years, many “experts” have dismissed this exercise, claiming it’s ineffective for core strengthening. While I agree that it shouldn’t be the ONLY core exercise you do — the crunch does have its place. I work on this a lot with my private clients, because it’s a functional move that when done correctly, will help you sit up from the floor with more ease and with less risk of injury. And of course you see variations on this movement all the time in Pilates, which is a key part of our practice and our efforts to help people recover from back pain.

I often hear that people don’t like crunches because they’re uncomfortable or hurt your neck. But when you’re doing a crunch, you want to make sure you’re feeling it in your abs… NOT in your our neck. Here are the biggest problems I see with crunches and how to tell if it’s a technique problem or a neck problem:

You’re not actually using your abs

This sounds pretty obvious, right? But a lot of people have trouble figuring this out. During our Pilates 101 class this week, one woman experiencing neck pain appeared to be doing the move correctly — but she couldn’t feel it in her abs, only in her neck.

It’s because she was using her neck and chest muscles to curl her upper body into the crunch instead of initiating the move from her belly (abs). My tips to correct this were to pull her lower belly in toward her spine and the front of her ribs down toward her belly button. Then, keeping this shape locked in, use her breath (exhale) to help her initiate and start the curl from her abs.

Sometimes people don’t have the abdominal strength yet to perform a crunch from lying flat. If that’s the case, you won’t be able to do this correctly no matter how well you follow my cues. If you think that’s your problem, place a small pillow under the back of your head. This gives you a head start into the curl. Once your abdominals get stronger, you can try doing the crunch with your head starting from the floor again.

Your neck is in the wrong position

When you’re doing a crunch, you want your neck to be slightly curled (chin toward chest). Most people either curl their neck too much, or not enough. If your chin is touching your chest, you’re curled too much. And if you feel your chin and neck jutting forward toward the ceiling, you’re not curled enough. Either of these positions could lead to neck problems down the line if not corrected.

The ideal position for your neck is to begin with a slight nod of the chin (like you’re nodding “yes”) and then keep it there. The rest of the curling motion will come from contracting your trunk and abs. As you curl up, I recommend keeping your eyes focused on your belly and keeping a tennis ball’s distance between your chin and your chest.

Sometimes your hand and arm position can be what causes your neck to be in the wrong place. If your hands are behind your head, be sure you’re not using them to pull your neck forward. Your head should be gently pressing into your hands and your elbows should be at a 45 degree angle from your body. Your abs do the rest.

You have an underlying neck problem

In our practice, we specialize in neck and back pain. When you’ve got an underlying neck problem, doing crunches isn’t a good idea until the underlying problem is resolved.

Let’s say you have a small bulging disc in your neck that you weren’t aware of or that you thought was fixed. The curled position of your neck during a crunch can exacerbate this problem, even if you are using your abs correctly and following every tip I just mentioned above.

Some clues that you might have an underlying neck problem could be pain that shoots into your shoulder blade or numbness and tingling down your arm. You might experience these symptoms during the movement, or even up to several hours after.

Either way, symptoms like this could be a sign that there is more to your neck pain than simply incorrect crunch-technique or weakness in your abs.

If this is happening, it’s a good idea to get it checked out by a movement/mechanical specialist like the physical therapists in our practice. The good news is that we can help your neck feel better even if you do have a problem like bulging discs — and you can get back to doing crunches again without any neck pain.

You can also check out our FREE guide to neck and shoulder pain right here!

It comes right to your email inbox and explores seven easy ways (plus a bonus section!) that are PROVEN to help you ease neck and shoulder pain quickly – without pain medication, procedures, or surgery.

If you have any additional questions or want a more personalized assessment, sign up for a FREE Discovery Session with us! It’s a quick, no-obligations opportunity for you to see if working with us could be the best decision for your health.