Kinky Necks (And What To Do About Them)

Kink in the neck

The neck is a very important body part.  It connects the head and brain to the rest of the body. It turns the head to look in all directions. It is a highly sensitive area that feels good when caressed or rubbed.

And it sucks when you wake up with a kink in the neck!

The neck consists of a series of 7 vertebrae (spinal bones) and intervertebral discs that make up the spinal column in the cervical or neck region. There are nerves that exit out of both sides of the spinal column in between each bone and disc. Each nerve communicates with the arm muscles from the shoulder all the way down to the fingertips. It is a delicate balance of structures that are mobile and stable that yield movement, stability and power in the upper body.

Occasionally, one single level can get stuck. It can happen overnight when you sleep or it can happen when you turn your head a funny way and the muscles don’t engage at the right time. It occurs as we scrutinize our work in the kitchen (plating) or spend long hours at the computer doing research for new recipes or running the business. With all of us using gadgets of varying types and the long hours working, it is much more common. The joints (spinal bones) lock up. This is called a facet joint lock, otherwise known to the layperson as a kink in the neck.

Kink in the neck
Routine activities in your job can cause a kink in the neck.

This is a simple musculoskeletal injury. Common symptoms of this acute injury include point tenderness over the facet joint, muscle guarding (stiffness in the muscle), restricted range of motion, pain in the neck and if the nerve gets ‘pinched, pain radiating into the arm. It can reoccur if the neck is tight and weak or if you are fatigued. Often times the person walks around with their head held very stiff and when they have to look in the painful direction, will rotate their entire trunk to be able to look in that direction. It’s called the ‘old man turn’.

What To Do About A Kink In The Neck

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These conditions can easily be fixed by a physical therapist. After full assessment, the therapist can manually mobilize the joint that is stuck, allowing for normal motion in that joint segment. They will also do soft tissue mobilization of the surrounding musculature to help it calm down and release its hold on the joint. Both of these manual therapies will help to restore normal physiological range of motion, which means you will be able to turn your head, bend your head, and look up and down without pain or limitations.

Often times, posture plays a role in full restoration of motion and elimination of pain. Don’t forget to address how you hold yourself upright.  If your head is held forward in front of the trunk, for every 1 inch the head is forward, it increases the weight being transmitted in the cervical spine by 10 pounds. So don’t forget that posture is important for all parts of the body. Before that plate leaves the kitchen, exercise good posture as you expedite and when your customer comes to the back to say thank you, you can greet them without that kink in the neck!

Dr. Karena Wu is owner and Clinical Director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy. She has been practicing physical therapy for 16 years in New York City after she graduated from the Program In Physical Therapy at Columbia University. She received her clinical doctorate in physical therapy from Temple University. She has advanced training in manual therapies, specifically in the Maitland Australian Approach and Myofascial Release. Karena is a Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist, Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Kinesiology Tape Practitioner and Pilates Instructor. She is also LSVT BIG, FMS and SFMA Level 1 Certified.

Karena is a dedicated practitioner who takes a holistic approach to her practice. She actively networks with a team of physicians, chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists. Her patient population consists of professional athletes, dancers, celebrity chefs, TV media stars, high end business professionals, and NYPD/FDNY.

Karena is used as a healthcare expert on CBS, NBC, NY1, PIX11, Verizon Fios, Fox News and Dr. Oz. She is the Director of Education for SpiderTech Kinesiology Tape and is on the Medical Board of the Association of Volleyball Professionals. Visit her website at activecarephysicaltherapy.com.