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Neck Pain and Whiplash

The neck is subjected to a lot of abuse from our daily work and play activities, often without our realizing it.  We take it’s painless actions for granted until “all of a sudden” we wake up with a stiff neck.  Slowly over time we go from full mobility to restricted movements; to the point we look in the rear view mirror to back up our car because we can’t turn our head completely around to look over our shoulder.  Has this happened to you?

How does we get this way?


The seven bones (vertebrae) of the cervical spine that make up the neck are designed by nature to allow for pain free movement in all directions (except backwards - that’s why parents have eyes in the back of their head).  The lower six bones each have a pad of cartilage, or disk, between them to act as a cushion absorbing shocks from movements such as walking, running and sneezing.  The bones have a slight curve built in to aid in the shock absorption.   Exiting from between the bones are spinal nerves some of which combine to form a network of nerves (brachial plexus) that run down the arm to the hand.  These nerves control muscular movements and feelings such as touch and pressure.  Another network of nerves (cervical plexus) exiting from between the upper cervical vertebra controls the muscles of the neck and upper shoulder.  Relaxing tension, melting adhesions and releasing trigger point patterns in these muscles can result in a more mobile neck and a happier you.


Attaching directly and indirectly to the bones of the neck are muscles that connect the neck to the ribs, shoulder blade, breast bone, skull, other vertebrae in the back and the collarbone.  These muscles are found in front, on the sides and in the back of the neck.  These muscles move the head, shoulders and neck.  Tightness and gluing occurs in and between these muscles from injuries (such as whiplash) and poor posture such as sitting at a desk or over a table.   This tightness and gluing can restrict movements of these joints and lead to trigger point pain in the chest, shoulder, neck, face, head, back and arms.


Whiplash refers to the sudden movement of the head and neck experienced from accidents, falls and sudden jolts.  While most people associate whiplash injuries with automobile accidents these types of injuries also result from 


  • roller coasters
  • bumper cars
  • tilt-a-whirl and similar
  • skateboarding
  • football and other contact sports
  • falls forward or backward involving the neck


The whiplash movement involves a sudden forward movement followed by an equally sudden backward movement – or it could go the other way around – backward and then forward.  The weight of the head (10% of total body weight) is flung around with the neck bones acting like a thin whip.


Muscles found in the back and front of the neck are strained, stretched and can go into spasm.  They also develop trigger points which refer pain into the throat, head, ear and neck.  Muscles in all sides of the neck bones should be massaged after approval of medical doctors is received.


Muscles in the front of the neck are found in the throat, covering the trachea (wind pipe) and under the wind pipe on the sides and front of the neck bones.  To work on the muscles on the wind pipe, stabilize the windpipe with the fingers of one hand as you use fingertip strokes to press into the muscles on the other (see illustration) to work the muscles under the windpipe, slide the windpipe to one side and slowly press down toward neck bones with fingertip of the other hand (see illustration below).  Apply strokes across the fiber direction and with the fiber direction.  


Emotions and the neck


Often overlooked are the emotional components associated with the neck.  Many authors write of a variety of emotional issues they associate with the neck.  The throat and voice box (larynx) are housed there and the natural tendency is to associate issues with voicing one’s opinion, self-expression, flexibility, self-love and the like.  Did you ever “take it on the chin”?  The question you can ask is what YOU chose to store there.  When you work with the neck area the opportunity to move through past habits and self-speak are presented.  You may choose to let go of the past and move into the “from-now-on.” 


As you massage the neck notice what images or thoughts surface for you.  These may arise at the time of the massage or afterward, during your sleep cycle.


Essential oils are well suited to addressing physical and emotional tension patterns.  Muscular tightness and pain can be affected by oils such as marjoram, basil, Idaho balsam fir, peppermint, black pepper to name just a few.  Oil blends we have used include Aroma Siez, Release, Relieve It, Valor, Panaway and Deep Relief.   In addition, there are many oil blends formulated to address emotional aspects of our being.  Look at the oil blends in the Feelings Collection for a good place to start.


Essential oils can be applied to the neck and throat areas either undiluted or diluted with a vegetable based oil.  You can use them with the massage techniques described on this page or demonstrated in the instructional DVDs for the neck.


Reflexology to the neck region (around the big toe) and trapezius region between the big toe and the second toe on the top of the foot is a good way to address neck tension as well.  


The Spiral Synergy approach would address the neck, middle and upper back, ribcage, collar bones and shoulders.  These techniques are demonstrated in instructional DVDs as well.  The Spiral Synergy approach often taps into the emotional component of long (or short) held patterns of behavior and posture.