Trigger Points are a Pain in the Neck
If you experienced a severe pain in your hand, would it occur to you that the problem was actually in your neck? We all know the phrase ‘a pain in the neck’ but if you have myofascial trigger points in your neck muscles, that’s probably the last place you’re actually going to feel anything.
Because trigger points in the neck muscles refer pain to so many other parts of the body, they are very hard to diagnose, and many people continue to suffer agonizing pain or other symptoms because they can’t find the source of the problem.
The most common muscle group to experience neck triggers is the scalene group, three muscles known as the anterior scalene, middle scalene and posterior scalene. These muscles join the neck bones to the top of the ribcage and trigger points in any of them can cause pain in a variety of locations.
Impact of Triggers in the Neck
The pattern of pain caused by spasms in the scalene muscle group varies greatly from person to person, and can also change from one day to the next for the same person.
Generally pain from scalene triggers will spread down to chest, along the arms and into the hands, into the upper back, and up to the side of the head. Shooting pains in the arms and hands are common, but in the upper body stabbing pains are more likely. Scalene muscle tension can also cause a huge variety of other diverse symptoms such as:
- Sinus problems
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- Tennis Elbow
- Voice changes
- Hearing issues
- Difficulty swallowing
- Tooth pain
Treating Neck Triggers
Stretching the scalene muscles can be very beneficial, especially for combating headaches, but before stretches are attempted it is a good idea to try to massage out existing trigger points so stretching doesn’t make them worse.
The scalene muscles can be found within a triangular area between the collar bone, the trapezius shoulder muscle and the v-shaped throat muscles. This area should be massaged very gently with the pads of the fingers rather than the tips. Use small circles to find the bands of muscle and ease off if you feel the pulse of the carotid artery or jugular vein.
Massaging this area can feel strange and a little uncomfortable to begin with, and pressing on a trigger point may initially feel hot and sharp. However, with gentle pressure you should eventually feel a warn ache spread throughout your arm, shoulder and head, showing that the massage is having an effect.
Once you’ve deactivated the triggers within the scalene muscles through massage, a daily stretch can be very effective at relieving symptoms. The best stretch for the scalene muscles is very simple:
- In a standing position clasp your hands behind your back.
- Lower your left shoulder and tilt your head to the right.
- Roll your head backwards until you feel a stretch in the scalene muscles.
- Hold for ten to fifteen seconds and repeat on the other side.
Preventing Neck Trigger Points
One of the main causes of myofascial points in the scalene muscle group is poor posture, especially sitting incorrectly at a desk all day. Continually tilting the head upwards or downwards, twisting to the side, or slumping the shoulders forward can all place excessive stress on the scalene muscles which contribute to trigger points.
These tips on correct posture at your desk should help to reduce pain caused by neck tension:
- Make sure your computer screen is at the right height so you don’t need to look up or down. If you are using a laptop make sure you have a docking station or a separate monitor.
- Make sure your computer screen is directly in front of you so you don’t have to twist your neck to see it and you can keep your head in a neutral position.
- Use a lower back support which will automatically pull your shoulders back and prevent you slumping forward over your desk.
- Alter the height of your seat so your feet are flat on the floor, or use a foot stool. If your feet are too far from the floor you will lean forward to compensate, throwing your upper body out of line and increasing pressure on your neck.
Pain and other problems caused by triggers in the scalene muscles can be very hard to diagnose because the one place that doesn’t seem to be affected is the neck. However, gentle massage of the scalene area and regular stretching, combined with great posture can work together to limit the impact of trigger points in the neck.