How we develop neck pain

Xray computer pic

It’s that moment, totally engrossed in a project at work, that without you really noticing it a gradual tightness creeps into your neck.

Focused on getting the project out, you override the short-term ache, but are left at the end of the day with stiffness in your neck and irritability. A few projects later, and from nowhere you develop a cracking headache.  What to do, other than take a paracetamol and keep on going?

Stepping out to play a game of squash you tweak your neck and find yourself in agony. But how did all this start?

In our busy day to day lives, sending emails, working away at a computer all day, and kicking back to chill with Netflix in the evenings, it’s easy to forget how much we rely on our eyes. Out of all the senses, we now use our eyes the most, and the effect of this on our body health is huge.

Leading with our eyes

One of the commonest causes of neck pain is compression at the top of the spine, brought on by dominant eye focus.

If you want to know if you are an eye-dominant person, there’s a simple test.

The Eye Dominance Test

Step 1: Stand on one leg, & see how your balance is.

Step 2: Stand on one leg and close your eyes. If your degree of wobble increases, your balance is coming from your ability to fix on the horizon and not your body’s internal sense of balance and perception.

What are the implications of this?

The biggest impact of bringing the head forward is tension, pain and compression at the top of the spine. This is in the area where the top two vertebrae of the spine (C1 & C2) meet the base of the skull at the occipital bone.

OAA.pngThis structural pattern leads to:

  • headaches
  • neck stiffness
  • transferred pain down into the arms
  • pain around the eyes
  • pain on one side of the face
  • indirect lower back pain (as a result of counter balancing the head held forward)

Another key effect is the build up of pressure at the junction between the head and the body. One of the important anatomical structures here is a hole located at the base of the skull called the foramen magnum through which the nerves, spinal cord and blood vessels travel down from the brain to the body. When this hole is squeezed, these soft tissue structures are impacted and there is an effect on brain function, alertness and body regulation. This can all come into play, simply from this shift in daily posture and neck position.

How to bring about change

Fear not however as these areas of compression can be resolved. The body has a remarkable ability to change. One of the most effective ways of relieving your neck tension is through massage and physical therapy.

In my private practice, from my knowledge and experience in Craniosacral therapy and Myofascial release (a type of massage), I use a highly effective combination of gentle hands-on techniques to release these deeply bound constrictions. This brings about long lasting change – relieving stiffness, improving circulation and restoring pain-free movement. Cranio1

When working with clients, it is a delight to see these shifts over a number of sessions and the ripple effect it has throughout their lives.

If you would like to find out more or would like advice on the symptoms you are experiencing to see if you could benefit, please get in touch.

Why I love Craniosacral


“Craniosacral what?”

I came across Craniosacral Therapy 9 years ago now. Working as a Physical Therapist in Oxford, I would cross over with clients leaving their sessions in a deep state of relaxation which you could almost tangibly feel in the air. Out of all the complementary therapies, this seemed to be the one with a disproportionate impact. How could such a light touch approach bring such successful results?

Within my work as a Rolf Practitioner, I found that the greatest change occurs in clients when there is a listening through the hands, with previous trauma held within the tissue able to unwind. I became known as a gentle Rolf practitioner, (as this practice is infamously known to be excruciating), with a number of clients saying “hey this is like Craniosacral Therapy”. But it led me to think… what is this thing called Craniosacral?

Craniosacral TherapyCraniosacral Therapy

In a Craniosacral session, the client, fully clothed (and normally wrapped in a cosy blanket… ) lies on the treatment table. The practitioner places their hands typically at the feet, head or sacrum, and their light touch enables the client to let go.

My time training at The Craniosacral Therapy Education Trust in North London was a phenomenal 2 years learning about the natural mechanisms of the body and the way in which a re-charge and re-booting of the system occurs when we drop into a deeply relaxed space.

The practitioner’s role is to facilitate that process, which with tools and an in-depth knowledge on the physiological function of the body, can help the client drop into this slower rhythm of re-charge.

In this deeper state of calm, the underlying issues of tension and unease show themselves and are able to settle and re-balance.

Finding Calm

It is a beautiful process to witness. Re-finding the broader horizon in a physical sense and re-tuning to a bigger perspective has a phenomenal effect on the body and its health. The observations and lifelong work of Dr. Andrew Still, Dr. William Sutherland & John Upledger in the path of Craniosacral Therapy have been fundamental.

Its role and the finely tuned skills of Craniosacral Therapy provide a space for the body to re-regulate and optimise health in a gentle and non-invasive way. After learning these skills, it is a privilege to see the effects they have in helping support patients and their recovery following cancer (in working with Pauls Cancer Support Centre) and in supporting the re-adjustments for ex-military servicemen suffering from PTSD with Veteran Outreach Support.

This practice and body of research provides an essential resource for re-finding health, a place to re-balance, rest and re-store function within the busy lives we lead.

Relieving tension headaches

HeadachesThere are a number of types of headache:

  • tension headaches
  • sinus headaches
  • cervicogenic headaches (due to compression at the back of the neck)
  • migraines

Tension headaches are episodic and can vary in frequency.

What are you experiencing during a headache?

The brain itself can not feel pain, however there are pain receptors (nocireceptors) in the lining surrounding the brain tissue (pia mater) and the membrane that lines the skull and centrally divides the cortex (dural membrane, shown in blue on the diagram).

Dura mater

For tension headaches, pain registered in the layers of the pia and dura mater can relate to compression and reduced movement of the cranial bones.

The cranial bones are not fixed but instead exhibit micro-movement. These small movements help ensure the natural circulation of the cerebro-spinal and extracellular fluid in our body. In cases where there is asymmetrical movement of the cranial bones, such as at the sphenoid or temporal bones, a build up of pressure and imbalance can be felt. Through light touch the Craniosacral practitioner helps restore the balance, as the body re-regulates to its natural patterns of circulation.


Everyone is Unique

Tension headaches are the most common form of headache experienced in the UK (NHS Choices). Craniosacral Therapy is highly effective in helping lessen the symptoms of tension headaches.

However, we all have wonderfully different bodies, just because someone else has benefited from a therapy does not mean that your body will be the same and vice versa. The most important approach is to try a session directly and see if it works for you. The dynamics of the cranial bones and tension patterns behind the pain vary from person to person.

For those new to Craniosacral Therapy a set of 3 sessions is recommend to allow time for your body to fully respond.

Related Articles:
– Did you know that the cranial bones move?
– Easing Migraine Pain – John Upledger
– Can Craniosacral Therapy help with headaches?

Tension-type Headaches: The International Classification of Headache Disorders
Bashaum (2014) – “If the brain can’t feel pain, why do I get headaches?” – Society for Neuroscience