The second most common complaint that chiropractors see is neck pain. Third on the list is headache. What some people may not realize is that these two complaints are often related. Not only this, but in many cases, the cause of the pain is a chronic tightening, or hypertonicity, of the shoulder girdle muscles, such as the upper trapezius, scalenes, and levator scap. When these muscles tighten, they often develop trigger points, which can refer pain into the head, causing headache. So, we know that the tightened muscle can cause neck pain and headache, but what causes the tight muscle?
There are multiple causes of tightened muscle which warrants a thorough evaluation to determine. However, in some cases, the cause is postural and may involve how you breathe. There is a correct form to breathing that people often train themselves out of. Take a look at any newborn and you will see their belly expand with each inhalation. However, there is a subconscious tendency for people to want to breathe with their chests. Men want their chests to look bigger and both men and women want to suck in their gut. This results in a habitual breathing pattern that ultimately inhibits the diaphragm, the key muscle for respiration. When the diaphragm becomes inhibited, other muscles have to take over and do the job. Which muscles take over? The upper trapezius, the levator scap, and the scalene muscles.
How many breaths per day do you think you take? Breathing does not turn off, it is a constant throughout your lifetime. If you think about it, the muscles being worked to breath are not given much opportunity to relax. Therefore, if your shoulder and neck muscles are not relaxing, they are tightening over time and the end result is that neck pain and headache that you are complaining about.
Developing correct breathing pattern is a key rehab exercise that I perform in my office with these types of patients. If this area is not addressed in care, you may be looking at persistent neck pain and headache that never really go away. You can even seek daily treatment, but if you’re still breathing incorrectly, get ready for an uphill battle.
Oh, proper breathing pattern also helps protect your low back. Think about that one.