Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Help! I have a reversed cervical curve!

I received a message from a colleague from school this week about a reversed cervical curve, and although I can't directly work with her (she lives in another country), there's a lot to be learned about the curves of the spine and when they begin to move from "normal."  As I've written about earlier, your spine is a series of different curves in the sagittal plane rather than a "column."  Each person's curvature is different depending on their movement habits, career, genetic predisposition, trauma (bike accident, sports injuries, etc.) and other factors.  

Image from HealthSurgical.com The spine on the left is a "normal" spine, whereas the three on the right show different spinal abnormalities that may occur.

Image from HealthSurgical.com The spine on the left is a "normal" spine, whereas the three on the right show different spinal abnormalities that may occur.

Now back to the neck, or the cervical vertebrae (there are 7 of those).  There should be a natural lordosis to the cervical spine which allows weight transfer between the vertebrae and maintains a healthy amount of movement in the neck.  However, a reversed curve or a straight neck will lack that lordosis and either have a curve in the opposite direction or lack a curve altogether.

This digitally rendered image from Katz Chiropractic demonstrates three different neck curve variations- "normal," straight, and reverse.

This digitally rendered image from Katz Chiropractic demonstrates three different neck curve variations- "normal," straight, and reverse.

Many people will seek out treatment for such neck issues as a result of excruciating pain, whether in the form of the migraines, thoracic outlet syndrome, nerve compression, or disc herniation.  The irregular curvature will change the weight distribution into the discs, potentially negatively affecting the whole series of cervical joints, and overtaxing the ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues of the neck and upper back.  However, with such a diagnosis, it's hard to know whether the neck curve has always been there and is only showing symptoms now, or whether it's the cause of a host of issues.  Many people have herniated discs in their spine and no pain, but an MRI reveals issues they didn't know existed.  The neck curve may be a symptom of a bigger issue (a larger, whole spine issue), a trauma, accident, or something else, and may not actually be the cause of the issues.  

The question is, "how do I treat this?" which is a much harder question to answer!  As always, it's important to check with your medical professionals, get an x-ray and MRI to ascertain if there are spinal irregularities or disc herniations. I have not personally had this particular diagnosis, but as a movement teacher, I would seek out practitioners that will look at all of the spine for other issues that could be triggering the neck issues.  That can mean chiropractors, Physical therapists, manual therapists, and other bodyworkers.  However, there is a huge range of approaches to these disciplines, and it can be difficult to find one that works for you- some chiropractors take approaches that may not work for you, others will have a gentler approach, and some PT's will give you cookie cutter exercises and others will give hands on, individual attention.  Finding a good practitioner is certainly a challenge!  As a patient, you want to address the skeletal issues, the soft tissue issues, and look to the causation of the pain or abnormality.  Some treatments focus on treating the symptoms of neck pain, but if it's recurring, it would be good to figure out if it's a result of your movement habits, your instrument setup, your sleeping habits, etc.  In terms of organizing your instrument setup, a Body Mapping® instructor, Alexander Technique® teacher, or Feldenkrais® instructor can also help look at your setup for issues and see how you can move better on a day to day basis.  As always, if you feel that your medical practitioner, movement instructor, or bodyworker is not supporting you in your process, or is dismissive of your pain, search for another person- you deserve to be taken seriously and to have someone invested in your recovery and improvement.