This type of injury causes a guarding mechanism of the large flexors, extensors and rotators of the cervical spine and head, including the sternocleidomastoideus muscle, the scalene muscles, and levator scapulae and trapezius. These are all muscles that traverse the region from the upper thoracic, and shoulder area to the cervical spine and head. (See illustration)
In order to protect vital structures, these muscles will become rigid. The result is poor circulation in the tissues and this is felt as burning pain. There will be loss of range of motion, with the movements and positions becoming painful. When people are asked to locate their neck pain, most will indicate the lateral (side) aspects of their necks, which points to an involvement of the scalenes muscles. If the scalenes are involved, almost invariably the ribs are subluxated. Common displacement patterns are posterior and lateral, which has to do with outstretched hands, seat belts, and backpacks, pulling the ribs posteriorly away from the sternal joints. The way we fall, the way gravity interacts with our bodies, pushes the ribs in that direction as the impact is felt. These are the common causes of displacement — all bets are off when a person is thrown from a bike or a jet ski, flying through the air like a rag doll.
When the scalene muscles become rigid, they trap the neurological structures that extend to the arm, hand and fingers. In addition, this rigid muscular guarding will restrict the normal respiratory motion of the ribs themselves, which will produce a restricted breathing pattern. Then a more subtle involvement occurs: the sympathetic chain resides on the costovertebral joints; a minor displacement of these joints will distress neurological structures affecting sleep, digestion, and other autonomic health conditions. I am suspicious that the cardiovascular system is also affected, causing a system-wide vasoconstriction like being on fight or flight mode all the time. In this case coronary arterial structures would shunt blood to other structures, leaving a resident increase in pressure. Over time this could translate into systemic hypertension and would be a likely, though as yet unproven, neurological explanation for systemic cardiovascular problems.
Structural chiropractic views the body as an integral, architectural system; impaired alignment features go against the Universal Building Code of the Body. Remedies for various sources of neck pain and accompanying neurological involvement need to address the body’s building code violations. The goal then of chiropractic treatment is to restore normal motion and function of the muscular, neurological, and vascular structures.
First the don’ts:
Now the do’s: