How to Restore the Natural Curve in Your Neck

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If you have healthy posture, your spine has a natural S-shaped curve when viewed from the side. Your low back curves in a bit (lumbar lordosis), your upper back rounds slightly (kyphosis) and your neck curves in slightly (cervical lordosis). Good spinal alignment with its natural curvature enables you to sit, stand, walk and move without pain or impairment.

Your natural spinal curvature helps your body:

  • Absorb shock during physical activity
  • Support the weight of your head
  • Keep your head aligned over your pelvis
  • Maintain and stabilize good body mechanics
  • Maintain flexibility and range of motion

Over time, a sedentary lifestyle, constant sitting and the use of electronic devices can alter your normal spinal curvature, causing pain and inhibiting fluid movement. Physical therapy and chiropractic care can help restore your neck curvature to reduce pain and promote healthy posture.

Cervical Spine Anatomy

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The top seven vertebrae of your spine define your neck and provide a base of support for you head. In addition, your cervical spinal canal serves as a protective conduit for your spinal cord, the bundle of nerves that descends from your brain and down your spine, to send and receive signals between your brain and your body. Blood vessels also pass through the foramina of your cervical spine, carrying oxygen and nutrients to your brain via the vertebral arteries.

Your cervical vertebrae are connected to each other and to your skull, held in place by numerous ligaments, taut bands of connective tissue that provide protection and prevent excess movement. The muscles of your neck also play a role in protecting and stabilizing your cervical spine.

Separating your cervical vertebrae are intervertebral discs, spongy cushions of cartilage that provide padding and shock absorption. The discs enable your neck to move freely without the individual vertebrae rubbing against each other.

The complexity of the cervical spine with its many nerves, joints and blood vessels, makes your neck one of the most complicated regions of your body, When you experience neck pain, headaches or even jaw pain, finding the exact source of pain can be challenging. Yet most pain associated with the cervical spine can be resolved through chiropractic care and physical therapy.

Roles of the Cervical Spine

Your cervical spine is the most mobile region of your spinal column. It supports the weight of your head while allowing it to pivot and rotate, expanding your range of vision. The seven cervical vertebrae are the smallest in the spinal column, yet they play many important roles. They define your neck, protect the nerves of your spinal cord, facilitate blood flow to your brain, and support your skull.

In addition, some of the cervical vertebrae play special roles:

  • C1 is at the very top of your spinal column. Located at the base of the skull, C1 is often referred to as the atlas, forming the joint that connects your skull to your spinal column.
  • C2, called the axis, provides a pivot point for C1 to rotate, increasing your head range of motion.
  • C7 is your lowest cervical vertebra. It has an extra-long spinous process, a bony protrusion that you can feel with your fingers. It provides an extended point of attachment for the muscles and ligaments of the neck.

Changes to Cervical Spinal Curvature

Alterations to your natural spinal curve occur gradually over time, often due to poor posture and weakened muscles. Day after day of sitting hunched over a computer or staring at your cell phone cause your head to jut forward, stretching the muscles in your upper back and at the back of your neck, and shortening muscles in your chin, neck and chest. Muscle strain can cause trigger points to form, restricting movement and contributing to neck pain and headaches.

Your head weighs somewhere between 10 to 13 pounds. When you allow it to jut forward for hours each day, its weight exerts pressure on your vertebrae and discs. Over time, your neck begins to lose its natural lordotic curve, and you may end up with a reverse neck curve, where your neck rounds forward. Soon, calcium deposits are laid down and you begin to develop bone spurs that irritate your nerves. Your discs begin to thin, reducing their shock absorbing properties and narrowing the space between vertebra.

When the cervical spine loses its natural curve, structures within the neck can become compressed, placing pressure on nerves and restricting blood flow to the brain. Headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and pain or restricted movement in your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) may ensue.

Symptoms of Reversed Lordotic Curve

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In some instances you may be able to detect changes in your neck’s lordotic curve by observing your posture in a mirror or looking at your profile in a photo, but subtle changes may be difficult to detect with the naked eye.

Some common signs and symptoms of changes in your neck alignment include:

  • Neck and upper back pain
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Vertigo
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD)

It is important to note that not everyone with changes in their neck curvature experiences profound symptoms. Changes may be subtle, like reduced neck and head range of motion, or reduced physical performance.

Restoring the Functional Curve of Your Cervical Spine

The longer you ignore changes in your cervical spine, the harder they are to reverse. Over time, your ligaments and discs may begin to change shape, making it more difficult to restore your neck’s normal curve. Loss of normal cervical lordosis makes you more vulnerable to injury and increases your risk of irreversible damage or disability in a car crash or other trauma. Poor neck alignment translates along your entire spine, increasing your chances of low back pain and reducing you physical performance.

Restoring your functional cervical curve calls for a multi-modal treatment approach that includes precise chiropractic adjustments, manual therapies, exercises and stretches. Because your body’s systems work interactively, you may also need to make adjustments in your gait and posture, to correct deficiencies brought about by poor neck alignment. Measurements of your cervical curve should be taken before treatment as a baseline, during treatment to measure progress, and post-treatment to confirm complete restoration.

Headache, TMJ and Neck Pain Treatment in NYC

If you are having symptoms of neck misalignment, or are simply concerned that your posture and daily computer use are putting you at risk for neck problems, the neck pain specialists at NYDNRehab can help. We use advanced technologies and innovative therapies to go beyond pain management and get to the very source of the problem.

Our treatment methods for headache, TMJ and neck pain include:

  • Chiropractic care
  • Physical therapy
  • DNS (dynamic neuromuscular stabilization)
  • Manual therapies
  • Trigger point release techniques
  • Posture reeducation
  • Vestibular balance training
  • Gait analysis and retraining
  • Other innovative treatment methods

Contact NYDNRehab today, and stop cervical neck pain before it stops you.

Resources

Ezra, David, et al. “Cervical posture, pain, and pathology: developmental, evolutionary and occupational perspective.” Spinal Evolution. Springer, Cham, 2019. 321-339.
https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-19349-2_14

Ferracini, Gabriela Natália, et al. “Analysis of the cranio-cervical curvatures in subjects with migraine with and without neck pain.” Physiotherapy 103.4 (2017): 392-399.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031940617300263

Ferracini, Gabriela Natália, et al. “Relationship between active trigger points and head/neck posture in patients with migraine.” American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation 95.11 (2016): 831-839.
https://journals.lww.com/ajpmr/Abstract/2016/11000/Relationship_Between_Active_Trigger_Points_and.6.aspx

Gao, Kun, et al. “Correlation between cervical lordosis and cervical disc herniation in young patients with neck pain.” Medicine 98.31 (2019).
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6708878/

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In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)

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Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)

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Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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