I Have a Military Neck, Now What?
My doctor told me that I have a military neck and that it was causing my neck pain…
My last chiropractor said that I have a military neck and I needed a year to fix it
Over the past 10 years, I’ve noticed that the general public is becoming increasingly aware about certain facets of spinal alignment. For years, parents of small children are showing more concern about their child having scoliosis. Today, I see more and more patients who have told me about their concerns about having a military neck.
While it’s refreshing from a chirorpactor’s stand point to see a greater awareness about spinal health, there are still a number of misconceptions that need to be addressed.
What’s a Military Neck?
The images on the below show x-rays for 2 people. The top image is a smooth C-shaped Arc representing a normal curve, while the image on the bottom shows a straightened appearance from a loss of the normal curvature.
When people talk about having a military neck, people are talking about the straightened appearance that the neck takes when it loses it’s normal curvature. Military neck has less to do with being injured in the line of duty, and more to do with the straight and stiff appearance of a soldier’s posture.
How Bad is it Really?
When patients come to my Wellington office for a consultation they will mention if they had x-rays in the past. I’ve had several people who had a previous chiropractor promise the world by putting the curve back in their neck. I’ve also had a few medical doctors tell people that the cause of their pain is from the loss of curvature in their neck, but then recommend a course of pain killers or shots to treat the problem.
How bad is a straight neck really?
The presence of a curve in your neck allows for smoother motion of each of your neck vertebra. It also plays a key role in distributing force throughout the discs of the cervical spine. In essence, a C-shaped curve in the neck can and will prevent early breakdown and degeneration of your spinal joints. As the discs and joints begin to breakdown, it can create the environment for inflammation to build up around the nerves, or even lead to disc protrusions and disc bulges.
You may not feel the effects of a military neck immediately, but just like you don’t feel plaque building up in your arteries, it is something than can and will eventually become problematic as you go.
Can It Be Fixed?
This part is a bit of a loaded question. The answer really comes down to this fact:
Why is the neck straight to begin with?
Many cases are induced by compromising neck positions from texting/computer/screen time and has lead to weakness of the intrinsic muscles of the head and neck. Some cases involve malformed vertebra that force the neck into a straight or reversed position. Then of course are the neck’s that are a result of traumatic injury like whiplash.
Many of the postural and some of the minor traumatic injuries can see their curves restored nicely under structural chiropractic care. However, the cases of mishapen vertebra and some of the traumatic cases may not see a return back to normal, no matter how skilled or well-intentioned that chiropractor is.
I Tried to Get it Fixed, but my Neck is Still Straight. Now What?
Here’s the good news:
You don’t necessarily need the curve in your neck fixed in order to get great results!
We often see Military Necks as a Secondary Condition of Atlas Displacement Complex. Although it’s really fun to see a straight neck get it’s curve back, it’s not a requirement for the patient to get improved biomechanical function of their spine again.
I remember helping a patient 2 years ago with problems related to headaches and arm pain. Following her course of care, I had helped restore a nice C-shaped curve in her neck and her resulting symptoms resolved. About a year later, she was involved in a bad car accident and her headaches and arm pain came back with a vengeance.
However, she was most concerned with the fact that her new x-rays showed a straightened neck with an insidious S-shape characteristic of a whiplash injury.
Within a few weeks, she was back to her pre-accident self, and free of any pain and symptoms. When re-examined her curve, we saw that the neck was better, but no where near the C-shape curve she had the last time.
Take Home Message
Military necks are associated with problems in the neck, but it’s not a death sentence. While we all want to be perfect, it’s important to understand that your body will always do what it can to adapt to any situation. Curve or no curve.
Some structural distortions like Atlas Displacement Complex may not have the popular awareness of military neck, but carry far wider implications for spine problems, and brain problems.
The most important thing to remember is that the care you choose to receive makes an impact on the quality of your life.