One of the things I absolutely love about the physical therapy profession is our ability to teach our patients how to take care of themselves. We are so fortunate to have the education and knowledge to help our patients prevent further injury to the best of our ability.
The answer that any business-minded physical therapist will tell you is that you should ALWAYS come see us! But that’s not always feasible for everybody… I will tell you that I firmly believe you should seek guidance whenever you start a new workout or exercise routine to ensure proper form and reduce your risk of injury. As human movement experts, physical therapists are more than qualified to help smoothly transition and initiate new exercise regimens.
In my 8 years of working as a physical therapist, I’ve learned a lot about what someone’s body can tolerate in terms of exercise and physical activity. Here’s a pretty unpopular opinion: body aches and pains are normal! Of course everyone wants to be pain-free all the time, but that’s just not reality. In fact, it’s why the phrases like “it hurts so good,” and “feel the burn,” even exist! Working out and exercising pushes our body beyond its limits so it can continue to strengthen and improve.
Back to the question at hand: self care versus physical therapy. As I mentioned above, always seek advice and instruction prior to initiating any new workout or physical activity to avoid injury. That being said, my advice, which may differ from other physical therapists, is to evaluate your pain/discomfort on three aspects:
If your pain is piercingly sharp, my recommendation is to seek physical therapy right away. If the pain lasts longer than 48 hours, I recommend getting it checked out. Lastly, if the pain is super consistent - for example every single time you step downstairs it hurts in exactly the same way - having someone fully evaluate it is the best way to go.
Our body will have aches and pains here and there when we transition into a new workout routine, or go skiing for the first time in the season, or initiate a running program after sitting on the couch for months. These are expected and relatively normal. However, if you notice that the pains become sharp, last a long time, and are consistent - give us a call! To get you started with your new routine or evaluate your pain, we can utilize our telemedicine platform! This allows us to gather a full history of your pain/injury and complete a movement screen. Then we can get you started on your road to recovery as quickly as possible through exercise and advice - and ultimately avoid serious injury!
Lisa Corken, PT, DPT
Simply put, the deep neck flexors are the equivalent of the core for the neck. When we think about our core, we often are referring to our abdominal muscles in the trunk. These mostly support our low back or lumbar spine. The good news is that we have similar supportive musculature for our neck - the deep neck flexors!
There are two main muscles that make up the deep neck flexor group: the longus capitis and the longus colli. In as lay terminology as possible, the longus capitis muscle attaches from the base of the skull to the front side of vertebrae from C3-C6 and the longus colli muscle runs along the front of the spine from C3 down to T3. Any rehabilitation that is focused on improving a forward-head / rounded shoulders posture or any rehabilitation from a neck injury should include some form of exercise for these muscles. The typical exercise is something we call the “chin tuck.” I often refer to this as “the sit up for the neck.”
The challenging part of this deep neck flexor group is being able to isolate and access it without recruiting other neck musculature. When you truly look at the anatomy of the neck, you can see that this deep neck flexor group is named such because it lies “deep” to the esophagus and trachea. This is where the challenge of access comes into play because there are many muscles that work easily but are “superficial” to the esophagus and trachea. These muscles are used for swallowing, talking, chewing, etc. So, in physical therapy, we need to teach our patients how to turn those muscles off and turn the deeper ones on!
We learn in physical therapy school that strong deep neck flexor muscles are able to hold a chin tuck and lift position for 30 seconds. In my 8 years of working as a physical therapist, I can attest that upon initial evaluation of these muscles I have never had a patient be able to do that. With practice and guided exercise, my patients are able to strengthen this unique muscle group and this ultimately leads to improved stabilization of the neck. This equals significantly less neck pain and improved posture.
Most of our patients understand the importance of core strengthening to help maintain health and reduce injury in the low back. The same holds true for the “core of the neck.” If you have any questions or feel like this is an area of your routine that you are missing, any physical therapist at Altitude would be happy to help you properly learn how to strengthen this deep neck flexor group. It’s a small group of muscles but they sure are important!
Lisa Corken, PT, DPT
Bob Cranny, PT