Case Study: Degenerative Changes in Neck Vertebrae

Cathy is 57 years old and had degenerative changes in her cervical spine. She had 3 vertebrae surgically fused ten years ago, and initially this eased the neck pain that she was experiencing. However, the pain returned, along with a slew of other pain symptoms (shoulders, lower back), and tingling down her left arm and hand. When Cathy came for Alexander Technique lessons, she had been given time off work by her doctor. Work in her clerical job had become problematical due to pain and she frequently had to go home early.

After a careful analysis of her posture and movement patterns, we started with first principles, identifying where and how she was generating a compressive force in her body, paying particular attention to the upper part of her spine. Cathy was indeed misdirecting muscular tension in her neck and shoulders into a compressive pattern which was pressing her head back and down into her shoulders and restricting her freedom to turn her head left or right.  It was also creating rigidity thoracically – her breathing was depressed and her ribs were not moving freely. This pattern undoubtedly included an element of protection against pain as well as adaptation to it. However, Cathy could immediately perceive the positive difference when I helped her to lessen the neck tension. The job was then for her to cultivate an awareness of it in her everyday life, and practice releasing the tension as she was going about her daily activities.

In effect, she was working on “catching herself out” when cranking up the unnecessary tension and compression, and letting it go. This was easier away from work so this was where she began; in activities like driving and walking. Gradually her sensitivity to how she was approaching her daily activities increased, and as she progressively reduced the habitual old protective patterns, her pain lessened. She successfully moderated her old “misuse” of herself. She also gained confidence from being more in control of the whole pain cycle herself.

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