Case Study: Chronic Neck Pain

Carrie is a 35 year old public servant who keeps herself very fit with a wide range of exercise. However, she has struggled with neck pain over the last 8 years. She has seen various practitioners with little result. In her first 3 Alexander lessons Carrie started to recognise that she needlessly tenses and contracts her neck much of the time. She didn’t realise that she was doing it. It was part of her habitual posture and it was this that hurt. It was very much a part of the way that Carrie sat, for example. For most of us, sitting at school is followed by sitting at Uni, followed by a sedentary job. We sit a lot, including in leisure activities. Whatever we do when sitting may not be comfortable, yet it is “normal” (read “habitual”).

Recognising this misuse and starting to become sensitive to it is a step towards correcting it. In Carrie’s case, the pattern of use of her neck extended into her chest. Her front was generally shortened and her ribs were not free to move in the way that nature intended. Thus Carrie’s breathing was compromised, leading to further strain in the “anti-gravity” system, the muscles which keep us up, lightly. The downward pull through Carrie’s chest was dragging on her neck and the back of her head, contributing to the pressure on her neck.

Carrie has been getting into the new habit of observing herself, without forcing “correction”, but rather with a clearer idea of how she could be using herself. This “picture of possibilities” includes how her head balances on the top of her back whatever she is engaged in, how her torso can lengthen, and how her torso includes her neck. She can take this picture into any activity: working at her desk, paddling the Murrumbidgee, or cycling to work, or using her camera.

Carrie is in less pain and is starting to be able to control pain in activity. She can see that there is a pattern of misuse of herself over which she can take control, redirecting tension into useful energy.

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