Neck Pain Fix

I am not a doctor. Over four years ago, I visited urgent care as some neck pain began a trip down my neck and ultimately into my arm and hand. The best thing the UC doc requested was an x-ray and she diagnosed me with a degenerative disc, C6; however, she also sent me home with a prescription for a worthless bottle of percocet and no plan to fix the issue.

First some storytelling. A friend of mine had an ER visit a couple years after a waiter at a restaurant told him that half of his face looked paralyzed. My friend is a nurse with a family history of heart issues, so he was quickly concerned these symptoms were related to a potential stroke. After admitting himself to the hospital, his ER doc ran EKG tests and an X-ray. While discussing the results, his doc kindly notified him that his condition had nothing to do with his heart, rather it was a C6 degenerative disc in his neck. His doc prescribed physical therapy and weeks later my friend was good as new.

My friend’s paralyzed face was the result of years of not addressing the issue – the degenerative disc condition may have allowed a nerve to be pinched. He had pain that started in the back of his neck, went into his upper back, his right-shoulder, down his right arm, and made his right hand fingers numb. I didn’t want to bother going on in, but I knew I had the same condition based on my X-ray results and symptoms – my problem started in my neck and continued down my right shoulder and into my right arm and fingers.

I read study results from some of Robin McKenzie’s work in developing exercises to fix these conditions. Apparently strengthening muscles around the degenerative disc can help mitigate symptoms I described above. The studies describe the exercises, but not in terms a layman like me can understand. I found a YouTube channel for a couple of physical therapists, Bob and Brad, who: demonstrate the exercises, explain some of the pain/numbness radiating down into your arm and finger tips, discuss who developed the treatment method, and describe what exercises alleviate the pain symptoms:

The first exercise they show, the chin tuck, supposedly helps 80% of people and is what I focused on. It takes some practice to get the form right and to get your neck muscles responding – the goal is to pull your head back and up if possible. When Bob and Brad demonstrate, they are exerting the kind of strength you’ll want to try when you first start the exercises, but as you move along in the treatment, you’ll want to exert much more force than they exhibit. When I first started, it was like my neck muscles were non-existent, so I started with reps of 10 and days later moved to reps of 15 and then 20. When I started doing reps of 15 and 20 a week into the treatment, it was like my neck muscles had suddenly reawakened and I could really start to pull my head back and up. About this time, the numbness in my arm was going away, but the neck pain started to get worse. The good thing is, doing this and the following exercises helps to relieve the pain and its something you can do at work. I also noticed that the exercises felt more effective if I was standing and grabbed on to something, but now I seem to be able to do the exercises standing or sitting and without having to hold on to anything.

Brad also shows a variant of doing chin tucks while laying down, but these didn’t seem to help me as much. I tried a few when I first hopped into bed at night, but that was about it. They felt good, but not something I did during the day.

Exercise #2, head roll backs, were helpful to me when the pain started to intensify in the back of my neck. I like how Bob stresses, try to roll your head far as you can – I used a lot of force to do this later in the treatment. They both suggest using towels for support early in the process, but later in the treatment, your muscles will be stronger and you’ll have no need for the towels.

Exercise #3, chin tuck and then side roll, was also helpful to me. I started doing these later in the treatment as the pain worsened in my neck. Towards the end, you just want the pain to go away and doing any of the preceding exercises will help.

Bob recommends doing each exercise in repetitions of 10, once per hour. When Brad says, you should feel improvement by the 7th or 8th rep, I say phooey. Sometimes it would take me 12-15 reps before the pain came out of my fingers or moved up my arm. When your neck muscles get toward the end of treatment, you’re going to start to feel a lot better and then suddenly, the pain just seems to go away. I started this back in August and by the end of the State Fair, I was completely better and have yet to have a set back.

One other thing Bob and Brad didn’t mention that brought relief for me: roll your pillow up at night and jam it under your neck so your head is craning backward. This sounds really awkward and strange, but when the pain intensifies toward the end of the treatment, laying in bed this way felt so good. My head/neck position didn’t last that way all night, but it was a good way to fall asleep. Since my neck pain went away, I no longer have to sleep that way 🙂

I wanted to capture this somewhere and I hope it helps you feel better!

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