“Fixing Funky Necks” with Myoskeletal Alignment Therapy

Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 | No Comments

Within months of finishing my massage therapy degree, I was rear-ended by a reckless driver and suffered a debilitating neck injury.  I saw chiropractors, acupuncturists, and Western physicians from a variety of fields—all to no avail.  Still weeks after the accident, I could barely turn my head without pain. Then, a friend referred me to a myoskeletal alignment practitioner and medical massage therapist named Stephanie Knight. Even as a licensed massage therapist, I had little faith that massage could heal the kind of injury that osteopaths and pain management docs failed to relieve.  I thought massage just wasn’t up to the task.  I was wrong.

Within a handful of pain management sessions with Stephanie, I had regained almost all range of motion in my neck, and the weakness and inhibition that had stolen my poise were quickly fading.  What had threatened to end my career as a massage therapist soon gave it a new and exciting direction: Stephanie took me in as her apprentice, and I studied alongside her for the next three years. Seven years after the fateful car accident, I am now a fully certified myoskeletal alignment practitioner with a thriving medical massage practice—not to mention a functional and flexible neck!  I do this work because I believe in it, and because I want to share it with those who need it now as much as I did then.

upper-crossed-syndromeAn example from my own practice may help clarify how myoskeletal alignment therapy works in a clinical setting.  People who work on computers—at least 90% of my clientele here in Austin—often suffer from what Dr. Vladimir Janda calls “upper crossed syndrome” (see Figure 1).  This is generally described by a posture my clients and I have affectionately dubbed “laptop neck”:  a slouch that, over time, results in tight traps and pectorals and painful, overstretched neck flexors and upper back musculature.  Because our muscles work in pairs (one contracts while its antagonist lengthens), tension along the anterior body created by forward-bending results in weakness and inhibition in the posterior body.  Thus, tight pectorals result in weak and painful upper back muscles like the rhomboids and serratus anterior.  Likewise, tension in the traps due to a forward-head posture results in reciprocally weak and painful neck flexors. 

According to Dr. Janda’s research, this imbalance creates a predictable pattern of joint dysfunction along the spine that, in turn, affects the shoulders, pelvis, knees, and ankles (see Figure 2 below).  Stress on these joints can result in a whole slew of painful maladies that plague those who spend a lot of time working on computers, including rotator cuff strain, thoracic outlet syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, SI pain, sciatica, functional scoliosis, dowager’s humps, TMJ dysfunction, degenerative disc disease, and disc herniations. Because muscles have memory, they retain their habitual patterns of contraction or weakness (and the affiliated joint strain) long after we leave the office.  Poor computer posture thus initiates a cycle of spasm and pain that is self-perpetuated: the more we hurt, the more contracted we become, and the more contracted we become, the more we hurt.

UCS joints

But there is hope!  The muscle memory that defines “upper crossed syndrome” is precisely what myoskeletal alignment therapists use to counteract the imbalance.  Myoskeletal alignment therapy takes Janda’s research and applies it to manual therapy, teaching us that the key to relieving “laptop” neck and upper back pain is often lengthening the pectorals and introducing extension to the thoracic spine.  (See the video below, Erik Dalton’s “Fixing Funky Necks,” for a sneak peak at what this type of therapy looks like.)

What Western medicine dubs a “syndrome” or “disease”—always pronounced with an air of finality— myoskeletal alignment therapy sees as the symptom of a larger, and ultimately reversible, postural imbalance.   Even if the damage to a joint is so severe that surgical intervention is indicated, myoskeletal alignment therapy provides a complementary structural therapy that accelerates healing time and decreases the risk of recurrence.  Indeed, the seminars I have taken with Dalton have also been attended by physical therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, and other manual therapists who work in more clinical settings.   Combined with at-home strengthening exercises for weak and inhibited musculature—exercises that, as a certified yoga therapist, I am happy to provide— myoskeletal alignment therapy works with muscle memory to interrupt the cycle of contraction and pain, and to set the patient firmly on the road to healing.

Click here to view Dalton’s instructional video “Forward Head Posture, Fixing Funky Necks”: