Guitar-string-like neck sensation...
June 1, 2012 4:28 PM   Subscribe

What's wrong with my neck and how can I alleviate it?

About 6 months ago, I started getting a weird feeling in my neck (on my left side), kind of where your neck dips into your clavical, when I would move a certain way. I did a little research and I'm thinking it's the sternocleidomastoid. It doesn't hurt, but it feels as if it's a guitar string getting plucked (it's a really gross feeling). It's just a quick feeling that happens anywhere from once every couple days to every few weeks, and I can't replicate it on my own--meaning I can't turn my head a certain way and make it happen--it will just happen randomly when I'm talking to someone and happen to land on the exact right combination of movements (e.g. shrugging my shoulder while raising my hand and slightly turning my head, or something like that, I don't exactly.)

I have a desk job where I spend the majority of my day hunched over my posture has been really suffering lately and logic tells me it's all connected (the hunching being the cause rather than the effect). My trainer at the gym has me doing "flys" on the upper body weight machine and stuff with a resistance band for the posture thing but I haven't had a chance to ask him about my neck yet. I think maybe it's improved since I started doing these exercises but that might just be wishful thinking. Other details: I want to say that I've never experienced this standing up--I think it's always been sitting down. Also, when I rub where I get the feeling, it feels really tight. I got a deep massage one time and had the lady really concentrate on that area--I naively thought it was just a kink that had to be worked out (like a tendon got twisted?--I clearly don't know jack about anatomy) but alas, it still happens.

Anyway, I know YANAD, but I am curious as to whether anyone else has ever experienced this sensation (a guitar string being plucked really is the perfect way to describe it), and if you know what caused it or how you made it stop. I know it's totally not a big deal but when a random physical problems pops up and I don't know what it's about, I like to find out as much as I can. If this is something that could escalate I'd want to know because a chronic neck problem sounds darn inconvenient. Thanks in advance!
posted by lovableiago to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think I know what you mean - You turn your head juuuuust the right way, though you really can't cause it to happen, and something in your neck goes "PING!" in a very attention-grabbing yet really not painful way.

No idea what causes it, but take some comfort that yes, it happens to others (to me, at least)!
posted by pla at 5:22 PM on June 1, 2012

In my case, the exact kind of pain as you describe here was the result of a bulging disk in my neck, probably due to - surprise! - constantly being hunched over a computer!

I would go to a doctor and explain the situation. The doctor will probably want an x-ray and/or an MRI. After that, you and your doc can decide if physical therapy would help, or some anti-inflammatories, or some other treatment. The sooner the better, because if it IS a disk problem, it probably won't get better on its own, and the longer you wait, the more potential there is for permanent damage.

Personally, I would avoid massages (and chiropractors, not that you asked about them) until I was sure what was going on.

Sorry to sound so alarmist, but I ended up having surgery, and that is an experience I would not wish on my worst enemy. If I had listened to my body earlier, I might have avoided surgery all together.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:41 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately I have no idea what causes it, but I experience this exact sensation over my left collarbone once a month or so. You're not crazy!
posted by telegraph at 5:49 PM on June 1, 2012

Concur with SuperSquirrel. I'm usually all about the chiropractor, but that's really only for people who've already been properly examined and don't have disk issues. Definitely see your doc and make sure you're not looking at something scarier.

I had this problem on the regular until I learned to take regular breaks from sitting at the computer, and learned some stretching exercises. Unlike SuperSquirrel, I didn't have a bulging disk, but it's definitely something you don't want to play around with.
posted by MissySedai at 7:55 PM on June 1, 2012

MissySedai, feel free to share those neck exercises :)
posted by lovableiago at 8:30 PM on June 1, 2012

Having issues with your neck while sitting at a computer is often associated with a neck extended position, so you push your head forwards and jut your chin out. This means that instead of being nicely neutrally balanced on top of your spine, your poor neck muscles (including the sternocleidomastoid) have to hold a lot of the weight of your head.

If this is an issue for you, fixing your posture every time you remember might help the issue you asked about and is likely to make you feel more comfortable in general. I used to get people to fix their posture by thinking about lengthening the back of their neck, or think about someone grabbing the hairs at the nape of their neck and pulling directly upwards. This makes you tuck your chin in and down, which straightens your neck, rolls your shoulders back and tilts your rib cage a bit up, but you don't have to think about those things, they just happen when you fix your neck.

I used to work with a voice therapist who had a stretch for the muscles in your lower neck which you might find feels nice. It's hard to explain in text and I haven't been able to find a diagram or video for you. You need to press very hard with your fingers on an area just below your collar bone, about half-way along. If you get the right bit it passively stretches muscles just above your collar bone and it feels great. Hold it for a couple of minutes.

The other stretches we used to recommend are really basic neck and shoulder exercises - chin down, ear towards shoulder, turn head to one side, turn head and tilt to one side, shoulder rolls, shrugs etc. They don't isolate particular muscles but they force you to mobilise the area and force you to think about where your shoulders are. If any of it hurts beyond feeling a stretch then stop immediately.

And absolutely if you are getting pain, check with a doctor.

Hope some of that is helpful for you.
posted by kadia_a at 4:37 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The problem with self-stretches of the neck area is that you can't make the muscles relax, due to your having to hold your head up. This is where a licensed massage professional can assist with passive neck stretches. Gentle work of the SCM and the surrounding muscles, especially the pectorals, which tend to get very tight in the kyphotic (aka the head forward) posture, is also indicated.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:15 AM on June 2, 2012

First, let me reiterate that if your problem is the result of a disk issue, any kind of neck exercises may make things worse. You need to know exactly where the bulging disk is and which direction it is bulging. Also, IANAD, of course...

That said, during my physical therapy (before surgery became my best option), one of the things I learned is exactly what kadia_a said above:
"thinking about lengthening the back of their neck, or think about someone grabbing the hairs at the nape of their neck and pulling directly upwards. This makes you tuck your chin in and down, which straightens your neck, rolls your shoulders back and tilts your rib cage a bit up, but you don't have to think about those things, they just happen when you fix your neck"
And OH GOD did that feel good! Yay! For about 10 minutes, though. Boo!

One reason the doctor suspected a disk issue with me is that these kinds of exercises and adjustments of my posture only worked temporarily.

Other things to try/think about:

* Check your posture when you're driving. Adjust the seat and steering wheel so that you are sitting more straight up and down, rather than reclining with your head tilted up. Especially be conscious of your posture if you drive a stick shift.

* Do you read in bed with your head propped up on a pillow? Stop it right now, or find another way to prop your entire upper body so that your neck is not bent forward.

* The flys you do at the gym - be careful with these. In my case, chest flys were the worst possible thing I could be doing, but inverted flys were part of my recovery therapy. Again, in my case, my chest was overdeveloped in relation to my upper back and delts, which resulted in my hunched forward posture. I stopped doing all work on my chest for a while, and added more upper back work.

* Be careful with your posture during situps too. Don't clasp your hands behind your head and dig your chin into your chest. Try and keep your neck at its normal angle.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:50 AM on June 2, 2012

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