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Anatomy

140 | What is a crick in the neck?

When people say they have a crick in the neck it’s usually because they’ve woken up to find their neck is stiff and sore. Sometimes they can't turn their head. 

One reason it can happen is that you slept weird. You were in a position for a long time and your neck got out of whack. You're not moving a lot when you're sleeping so you don't get warmth through your body. You’re not mobilizing the joints and your blood isn’t flowing in the same way as when you’re awake.

But there's also underlying factors. You have to examine where you spend the most time. Many people spend the most time at work and commuting to and from work. When we sit and work or drive for a long period of time, we're staying in one position, and our neck is often offset, and that sets it up for strain. We carry that potential for strain and even the emotional stresses that we incur throughout our day into our sleep.

A crick in the neck will go away with some time. It might be a week, later that day or in an hour. But if this is something you're living with, I wouldn't describe it as a crick in the neck anymore. You've got a cervical strain. If that’s the case you really need to address it, especially if you have any nerve sensation, like tingling, numbness or pain or chronic headaches. So please find a good physical therapist or body worker to work with you on relieving some of that strain. 

If it’s just a crick in the neck, one thing that will help is a hot shower to get some heat into that area. Start rolling one shoulder and shoulder blade back at a time. Then stand up against the shower wall and get your skull back against the shower wall so that your neck is in a neutral position. Bring your right ear toward your right shoulder. And then let the chin fall down towards your throat and chest instead of letting it jut out. Engaging your core abdominals, hold that and breathe. And then gently come up and bring your right ear toward your right shoulder. Come up again with your head and look to your right and left.

When you’re putting your neck to either side or rotating is when you might feel sort of locked in the neck. Sometimes one of the transverse processes, those little processes that stick outwards left and right, are a little out of place. If that's the case, bring your hands along the back of the spine. Go to your neck and feel the bony aspects of the vertebrae and then kind of slide to the left and right so that you're still on the vertebrae of the cervical spine but you're not right on the spinous process on the very back. Stay to the left and right of it. With your second and third fingers, gently toggle back and forth from your left and right fingers. 

If one of your transverse processes is really out of place and you don't have the expertise to try and move it back into place, you should go to someone who can do that for you. I really am not a fan of anyone manipulating the cervical spine and doing that in a way that makes those awful noises. I would find a massage therapist who knows a lot about anatomy to get in there and loosen up around the area so that the transverse process will kind of slide back into its position.

To avoid cricks in the neck:
  • Work on your posture
  • If you are at a desk all day, get your monitor or whatever you're using at eye level
  • March your feet around if you have a standing desk
  • Alternate between sitting and standing
  • Get a wireless keyboard so you can get that into a good position
  • Check your pillows - you don't want them too fat and fluffy
  • Keep moving because movement and exercise are going to keep everything more supple


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