Why does my neck hurt? Or connecting the tight trapezius to the universe…Part 1

Every day patients come to my office, looking for an adjustment, because they are in pain, because they are feeling stuck, and because a problem that has resolved in the past- like neck tension or  hip pain, is not ‘going away’ on it’s own anymore.  And they are in the right place!

We can help with this, the body has an abundant and innate capacity to heal if given the right inputs. In order to get the best results, and get more than just temporary relief,  but to actually resolve the reason the body is expressing such discomfort, we need to look a bit deeper into the cause of this neck pain, or hip pain, or digestive dysfunction, or autoimmune reaction, or migraine, or lack of energy, insomnia, restless leg syndrome.. there is a long list of how the body expresses it’s dis-ease when it is out of balance.

The reason the pain or dis-ease isn’t going away, as it has in the past, is 9.99 times out of 10, is not because there is an underlying disease process that is getting worse, that must be diagnosed and eradicated- although that is what the lenses of the medical model are geared to look for, it is because the body’s natural ability to adapt and flow with life stresses has been exceeded.

Like a tea cup full to the brim with water, once the nervous system reaches its capacity to adapt-  when new experiences pile on, there is no room for those new bits of information to be integrated and the water overflows onto the floor.

It might be helpful to think of uncomfortable symptoms, such as Sciatica, Lower back pain, Neck spasm, “sleeping on it wrong”,  as a sign that the system is overloaded, overwhelmed and stress is causing a backlog that is no longer being processed easily by your body.

That doesn’t mean not to pay attention to those symptoms, they are very important as your body sometimes has to shout to be heard if a lower volume is not getting the message across! Or like the proverbial straw that broke the camels back, the final action that caused the body to seize up, such as bending over to pick up a piece of paper of the floor awkwardly, was not the cause of the problem, it was a series of mircotraumas that weakened the area and it finally could no longer adapt to the strain in that final movement.

It also doesn’t mean that “it is all in your head”, Stress as I am describing it here is more like the primary definition:  “pressure or tension exerted on a material object.” The only difference being the material object in this case is a living, breathing, pulsating organism that is very intricate- your body, and really your body-mind continuum!

Stress comes in many forms,  we categorize them into physical, chemical and emotional sources- and then into micro and macro. Micro repetitive stresses, such as banging your fingers on a unyielding keyboard, or straining your head forward of your neck every day, driving on an hour long commute to work and back. Or Macro physical stresses, such one off physical traumas like a car accident or a soccer injury.  Chemical stresses are all too common in our environment, ranging from low level but continued exposure to particles our body perceives as foreign,  such as PCB’s, aluminum, food allergies and environmental pollutants we are sensitive too, or internally generated chemicals our body makes as a response to increased fight or flight response shooting cortisol thought the roof, or inflammation in the body from too many processed or food rich in sugar molecules.

Mental/Emotional stress can arise from work pressures, family dynamics, learning a new skill, or facing a sudden change in your life circumstances, like losing a loved one.  We learn many of our emotional stress responses before we have any conscious screens about their validity, so often the script we are playing in our head is outdated or illogical, or framed in a worst case scenario thinking.

But hold on, this is very doom and gloom, stress can be useful if it is not overwhelming, as it pushes us to learn and grow and try new things.  Imagine is a baby never faced the stressful moment of taking a first step in learning to walk. And stress is the bodies protective survival mechanism talking to us loud and clear and ringing alarm bells to keep us safe from perceived threats in our environment.

It is a brilliant short term solution to mobilize our immediate resources for defense or departure, but a deadly long term strategy as it leaves us either agitated, or exhausted and usually in pain, plus robs our healthy body functions of the ability to regenerate and nourish them selves.. such as the immune system, the digestive system, the reproductive system, our breathing and circulation, blood sugar and cortisol levels, literally everything our body does to take care of us on a moment to moment basis, and to keep all systems go.

Think about it, is your heart beating right now? Is the food molecules you ate for lunch being assimilated into your bloodstream and do you have to think about how your body maintains the right amount of glucose in your bloodstream to keep you from passing out, even if you sprint up to the top of coit tower?

It’s the ability to adapt to stresses- physical, chemical or emotional, that makes the difference between a healthy body and one that is heading downhill towards greater imbalance. So how do physical aches and pains, stresses and strains have to do with this? Our ability to adapt to stress is regulated and controlled by the limbic system, which controls all the cascades of hormones in your body triggering a “fight or flight” reaction.

The limbic system is also involved in processing memory. So when we replay a stressful situation in our head we literally send the same cascade of hormones through the blood stream as when the original event occured.  Conversley- when we focus on a positive feeling or memory or sensation, the “happy hormones” can start flowing which counteract pain signals and help us feel and be better.

How does an adjustment help all this? When we contact the areas along the spine that the body has stored up tension and potential energy to release with a gentle and yielding touch- the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated and nourished by breath and subtle movement of the joints rocking and feeding the brain positive input. The balance of the nervous system begins to come back into balance. The parasympathetic nervous system is often left behind in our race to the always further moving ahead goalpost of life, and our body has forgotten how to cultivate the vital skill of “letting it go”.

Overtime, with continued chiropractic sessions, your body learns to use it’s own internal mechanisms of breath, body awareness and movement to release and integrate the stresses of life and reconnect with it’s own internal rhythms. Everything we do is geared toward your body developing greater ability to self regulate and recover from stress with less external input.  How does that connect your tight trapezius to the Universe?.. stay tuned for Part 2!







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