Posture and Cervical Spine
A healthy cervical spine has a natural lordotic curve, which gently curves forward from the base of the skull and then backward into the top of the chest/upper back. When the head drifts forward in poor posture:
The lower cervical spine goes into hyperflexion with the lordosis curve flattening out.
The upper cervical spine goes into hyperextension with the lordosis curve becoming more pronounced.
This unnatural, forward positioning of the head and cervical spine places additional stress on the intervertebral discs, vertebrae, and facet joints, which may accelerate spinal degeneration. Additionally, as the bottom the cervical spine hyperflexes forward and the top of the cervical spine hyperextends in the opposite direction, the spinal canal lengthens through the neck, which increases stretching and tension on the spinal cord and nearby nerve roots.
As the body naturally ages, it is normal for some degenerative spinal changes to occur. Long-term forward head posture, however, may increase the risk for accelerated degenerative spinal changes, such as:
- Wearing down of facet joints. The small facet joints located at the back of each spinal level permit limited motion between adjacent vertebrae. When these joints are subjected to greater loads and repeated traumas, the protective cartilage that facilitates smooth motions between these bones can wear down. This is called cervical osteoarthritis.
- Bone grinding against bone. As the discs and/or facet joints degenerate, vertebral bones are more likely to rub directly against each other, which leads to bony overgrowths, called bone spurs (osteophytes). Bone spurs can further irritate nearby structures, such as nerves, ligaments, muscles, and others.
Cervical Collar and/or Cervical Pillow
A cervical pillow helps keep your cervical spine in proper alignment. Cervical pillows are designed to place the right amount of curvature in your neck during sleep. They help decrease pressure on the nerves in your neck to help you sleep better.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture practitioners work to restore a healthy flow of your “qi” — your body’s energy force. Some people find relief after one acupuncture treatment, though others require a few sessions to feel less neck pain.
Herbal Remedies: Topical herbal remedies such as capsaicin cream can temporarily reduce pain when applied to the skin. Devil’s claw and/or white willow bark are both commonly used to reduce inflammation and pain.
Yoga and Pilates: These exercises can increase your core strength, improve balance and posture and reduce stress — all fantastic ways to help you prevent and/or reduce neck pain. If your pain is caused by tense muscles or weak core muscles, yoga and pilates can be particularly helpful.
Most physical therapy treatments for neck pain involve an exercise program that will strengthen and stretch the neck to reduce pain and stiffness. Research shows that physical therapy is often a better treatment for neck pain than surgery or pain medication. Your physical therapist will work with you on exercises and treatments you can do at home to help you return to your normal activities and lifestyle.