The neck is an area where most people have experienced pain at some point over their lifetime. Consider two of the important survival functions of the neck; firstly, the neck obviously supports and moves the head and, secondly, the nerves to and from the brain move through the cervical spine. This shows you the conflicting but important jobs of the neck… it needs to be flexible and mobile but also strong and supportive.
The neck can be the cause of numerous problems
In addition to this, the large muscles of the neck extend into the shoulders, back and rib cage and their functions overlap, i.e. muscles that lift the shoulders can also bend or turn the neck. This why neck pain is often described as extending into the shoulders, between the shoulder blades or to the collarbone. And also quite critically, because of the nerves passing through the neck, neck pathology can and often does present as headache, arm pain and even wrist or hand pain.
Ideal neck posture
A neutral position for the neck is a gentle forward curve with your ears over (not in front of) your shoulders. This curve develops while we are babies, beginning to hold our heads up to look at the world. The muscles of the shoulders, neck and spine are in balance when the neck is in this neutral posture.
The layers of neck muscles range from superficial to deep. There are two general principles relating to these muscle groups:
- The superficial neck muscles tend to be bigger and do the moving (i.e. lift the shoulder or turn the head) these include
- The deeper neck muscles tend to be smaller and do the stabilising (i.e. keeping your eyes level) or postural support (i.e. supporting the bones of the spine).