I like to give the “what” first and the “why” later, for those with a low tolerance for details. But please read this first:
NOTE: Harriott Chiropractic offers this information for reference only and not as self-care advice for anyone who has not consulted with a chiropractor or other physician. It is important to understand that there may be hidden underlying physical conditions that could be complicated by following this or any other given therapeutic procedure. Please call Dr. Harriott at (916) 741-2041 or schedule online if you would like to schedule a consultation and exam.
What To Do:
- Try to avoid postures that result in sustained cervical (Neck) and thoracic (Upper Back) flexion (forward bending) when working, playing, etc.
- Take frequent breaks to stretch.
- Spend “equal time” in Extension Traction daily. Most people understand the expression “Equal Time” in the context of a public television station’s responsibility to give equal time to opposing political perspectives. In this context, it is referring to passive traction of the neck in extension for a minimum amount of time daily in order to counteract the progressive effects of chronic postural flexion.
This may sound more complicated than it is. All you need to do is to lay back, on the edge of a flat surface (a bed with a stiff pillow to provide some edge reinforcement will do) and allow your head to hang back with your shoulders flat and your upper back flat or slightly extended with a pillow or other fulcrum.
At first, this will be challenging and you will likely only tolerate less than full free head extension and for only about 30 seconds at a time. It is important that you don’t work through discomfort. If you experience any amount of dizziness, pain, tingling, numbness or any other discomfort at all, stop immediately. When you find your level of tolerance (either amount of extension or amount of time in that position), wait 24 hours before you try it again with slightly less extension and/or less time. The object is to gradually increase the time and amount of extension you can comfortably tolerate. When you work up to hanging your head freely for up to 15 or 20 minutes, that is about all you will ever want to achieve for this procedure.
Don’t Rush It !!!
Very few people who try do this for the first time can do full extension for 20 minutes and many will never achieve it. But every healthy person will benefit from doing controlled cervico-thoracic extension daily or at least several times per week. And while it will likely feel annoying when you start, many of my patients get such relief from this procedure that they actually look forward to doing it.
Over time, and with age, disuse, misuse and repetitive stress, our culture demonstrates a consistent pattern in the way that normal spinal curves degenerate. Whether it is from excessive driving, studying, reading, mobile device use or watching TV, I see that people start to flex their neck and hunch their shoulders and upper back as they age. It is predictable and understandable given our activities of daily living.
Like a piece of pipe held at one end and suspended with weight on the free end, it bends with gravity. And when you take the weight off, it springs back. But, if you leave the weight on, in the same place, day after day, there is a certain portion of the “spring back” that is lost slowly, over time. This is referred to as “plastic deformation”. This happens to your spinal curves as well.
This is why an older person is often seen to have a head forward, chin-to-chest, and hunched upper back and shoulders as compared with their posture in younger years. When you lose your normal spinal curvature, the normal spinal cord is stretched slightly within the spinal canal and that, in turn, pulls the spinal nerves, from where they are attached, up against the edges of the spaces where they leave the spinal column to connect and communicate between your brain and your arms, legs and organs.
When you are young, this causes no problem, but as your spine degenerates, those spaces get smaller and you have less ability to accommodate that normal stretching. Eventually, pulling the nerves up against the smaller opening starts to pinch these nerves causing loss of function, vitality and even numbness, tingling and pain.
You can’t spend your life without any stress or degeneration, but you can develop habits that will help you to preserve your spinal health. Beyond eating right, exercising and getting adjusted, giving your spine “Equal Time” is very important. In Chiropractic, when we talk about Chiropractic Wellness, we like to refer to “spinal flossing” in a casual reference to dental preventive self-care. Think of this as a daily spinal flossing to keep your spine healthy for a lifetime.