Did you ever wake up with a “crick” in your neck, unable to move it because of the pain?
It happened to my husband not long ago. He didn’t want to get out of bed, that’s how immobilized he felt.
In such cases people would normally go to the doctor, I guess. Due to my upbringing in places “where there is no doctor” I’m into “do-it-yourself-medical-care”. Since coming to places where there are plenty of doctors I find that most of them apparently have no time for people, so I’m happy to leave them to their business (whatever that may be) and continue to look after myself. After all, my health and the health of my family is my own business!
So the first thing I always do in medical emergencies is consult trustworthy people on the internet.
The wonderful Dr. Mandell
I had discovered Dr. Alan Mandell, a chiropracter, on Youtube a while ago. He is a man who loves to pass on his knowledge to help others. Judging by the abundant comments under his videos, he has indeed been a lifesaver to many. I love how Dr. Mandell first explains the anatomy of a certain area, and how certain stresses produce certain problems, and then, based on this understanding presents something a sufferer can do himself to alleviate or even get rid of his problem.
And all that in plain English!
I think it’s especially cool that he is a do-it-yourself guy, too, in that he experiments from his understanding of cause and effect and comes up with his very own simple but highly effective techniques.
Inferring a diagnosis from the effective remedy
So we turned to Dr. Mandell’ channel called “motivationaldoc” and typed in “neck pain”. We went through a few of his videos, trying out the exercises he recommended. I remember we found his “Instant neck-trap pain relief side lying technique” video – my husband tried that technique and it did feel good, but it did not really help his neck pain. There are so many different muscles, ligaments and nerves involved in the neck area, it takes a while to figure out what actually is the problem – what the diagnosis might be.
Finally we found the video called “self-traction for neck pain, pinched nerve, herniated/bulging disc” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w9BIJIox08&t=791s) which showed a simple towel exercise that really worked “like magic” to take my husband’s pain away.
Since this exericise really worked to bring healing, we concluded that one of the nerves in his neck had been pinched by remaining in an unnatural position for a longer period during sleep.
Usually doctors will first work to find a diagnosis before going into remedies. This makes sense because they are working from the outside and cannot feel what the patient feels. All they know is what you tell them – and some things are simply hard to describe (never mind that there are people who don’t understand no matter how well you do describe the situation).
But if you take charge of your own health you don’t need to worry about communication. You as the sufferer are working with inside knowledge, so to speak, of what is wrong – and as you take steps to remedy the siutation you receive instant feedback as to what works for you and what doesn’t. Things can’t go wrong as long as you are gentle with yourself and stop any exercise that feels wrong (you may need to learn to listen to your body, though).
Forward head posture
In the above mentioned video Dr. Mandell first explains how neck pain can come from a bad sleeping position, but most often develops from a more or less constant forward head posture. The more we lean our head forward the harder our neck muscles have to strain to keep holding the weight of the head. Since we moderns tend to look down at our various screens for hours on end this forward head posture becomes more or less permanent, and we overtax our neck system. Over time, “silent degeneration” sets in (it is “silent” because one does not notice it for some time). This means that bones start to develop spurs, and discs that sit like cushions between vertebrae become inflamed. Forward head posture means that there is abnormal pressure on the front of the disc, and it will start to degenerate. Sooner or later the nerves nearby will be affected. As the vertebrae are no longer well-cushioned but come down on each other the nerve roots that come out from between them become irritated and then compressed, or pinched. Of course, a pinched nerve means pain.
But that is not the only problem with pinched nerves. Nerves conduct signals from the brain to every body part, and when a nerve is pinched the “brain energy” can no longer flow unimpeded. Dr. Mandell compares it to a garden hose that has been stepped on, and so can no longer conduct water to the flower beds. Not only is this bad for the hose (nerve), but also for the flowers (body areas supplied by that nerve) that depend on the hose bringing them water.
It’s important to know that the nerves that come out from the spinal cord in the neck area control everything that happens in the head (including sinuses, teeth, eyes, ears, the vocal cords, the thyroid gland etc) as well as the neck, shoulders, arms and hands. If a nerve becomes irritated you may not feel it “on site” but “further down the road”. To stay with the garden hose metaphor, you may not feel the foot on the hose, but you will feel trouble in the flower beds. You may not realize that certain symptoms you are experiencing say, in your elbow, are due to a nerve being pinched up in the neck area. Everything in the body is connected. Unfortunately many doctors are specialized on certain areas and hardly look beyond to the many inter-connections that exist.
Two self-traction exercises for pinched nerve neck pain
The remedy for a painful pinched nerve in the neck is to reduce pressure on it by opening up the area between the vertebrae where that particular nerve root comes out from. The goal is to help the disc situated there to regain its normal shape and function.
All you need for this is a small hand towel rolled up lengthwise.
(Dr. Mandell asks that if you have had neck surgery or spinal fusion or something of the sort to please check with your doctor about the safety of these exercises in your case. If there are no such preconditions then these exercises are very safe.)
First, it’s important to increase the mobility of your neck. Grab the towel on both ends, and bring it behind the lower part of your neck. Then tilt your head back (as far as you can, but no more than 45º) while firmly supporting your neck with the towel.
This will open up the facet joints between vertebrae in the back of the neck.
Bring your head back and forth several times, then move the towel higher up your neck and repeat. This helps to bring the vertebrae back into their proper position. 90% of the time when discs herniate (protrude from between vertebrae) they will bulge out backwards (posterior) and to one or the other side (lateral). Bringing the neck back into the correct position will help move discs forward, which is back where they belong. This exercise thus helps to break up adhesions and should already help your neck pain a lot. Don’t worry about the science at this point, just follow what feels good.
Once your neck has become a little more mobile it’s time for the next exercise with that same towel. Roll it up tightly once again and place it under the back of your head. There is actually a groove underneath the occiput (back of the skull), which seems to be made to hold that towel in place!
Now lift your head’s weight off the spine by pulling up the two ends of the towel. You will feel the spaces in your neck opening up, and the pressure gone from the nerve. The pain should be gone as well. Hold the position for 15-20 seconds, and relax. You can repeat this several times.
Now that you have the hand of it, flex your head forward about 20-25º. Dr. Mandell has found this to be the best angle for opening up the back part of the disc to reduce pressure on the nerve root. Again, pull up from the two ends of the towel to lift pressure off the nerve, but this time in a more forward direction of about 20º. The point is not to pull as hard as you can, but simply to put some space between your vertabrae. Hold for 20-25 seconds and release slowly. Repeat this several times. Do experiment to find what angle and how much pressure feel best in your case.
When you release the towel you are letting the pressure back on the nerve. But Dr. Mandell has found that this pumping motion you are subjecting the discs to can have remarkable results. One key is to bring motion to “frozen” parts of the body, which works to restore function.
You may also want to experiment with doing this exercise by first leaning your head to the left about 20º (and later to the right) before you start pulling the towel up. In this way you will pull up on one or the other of facet joints on the sides of your spine, opening up more space on side opposite to the one you’re leaning toward. Here experimenting for your own particular situation is even more important. Many people, including my husband, have found this to be very effective.
Please only use this technique with a towel (not with machines or over-the-door traction units), because you want to be very controlled in your use of lateral traction (machines will apply too much weight and can harm your neck). This exercise is great, because you – the only person who feels where the problem is – can control how much pressure to use in which direction exactly. Again, follow whatever makes you feel less pain, whatever makes the area feel lighter, whatever makes symptoms disappear, whatever feels right.
My husband was amazed at how quickly his symptoms disappeared. As soon as he applied the towel the pain was gone. It would gradually come back, due to a phenomenon called muscle memory. Your muscles have become used to being in a certain position, unnatural or not, and they do need time to change. This may take several weeks or months, depending on how long you have had the condition for.
In my husband’s case it took a couple days, since the condition had come on suddenly. He was able to get up, and whenever he felt the pain come back he would just get out his towel, apply traction in whatever direction felt most helpful, and he would feel good again. At first he had to repeat the exercise every hour or two. The next day he had to repeat the exercises about four times throughout the day. By the third day his muscles had “forgotten” that “bad memory” – and he has been fine ever since!
Please do watch Dr. Mandell’s video (link below) for a more visual explanation of the anatomy and the exercise. And – as Dr. Mandell always says – “make it a great day!”
Source (besides our own experience):
Dr. Mandell, Self-traction for neck pain, pinched nerve, herniated/bulging disc. Retrieved on June 3rd 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w9BIJIox08&t=791s