Why Proper Neck Alignment Is Key
It affects much more than just your posture.
We don't give nearly enough thought or care to our necks. Hands up if you're hunched over your laptop or phone this very moment, or have been using the same, too-soft pillow for years.
All's well, until you wake up one morning with an excruciating pain that radiates down your shoulders, you can’t turn your head, and rolling out of bed is suddenly not an option. This writer speaks from experience. (Thank you, Text Neck).
Or perhaps you're perplexed by the constant headaches you get and why you're always tired despite having ample sleep and a good diet. Sound familiar? We turn to Dr Kelvin Ng, Doctor of Chiropractic (USA) and clinical director of Family Health Chiropractic Clinic who explains why neck alignment is absolutely crucial to our health.
A quick anatomy lesson
Your spine starts at the base of the skull with a column made up of seven cervical vertebrae, each which can cause specific problems when they’re out of alignment. Your head, which weighs approximately 5.4kg (12 pounds), is supported by this column.
Dr Ng explains that if you tilt your head forward or constantly look down at your phone – as many of us do these days – your head and neck protract beyond their natural alignment. This can almost triple the load on your neck, especially on the lower part, putting more demands on the vertebrae, and the muscles and nerves surrounding it.
So what, one might say? Cervical spine nerves provide functional control and sensation to different parts of the body. When your neck is out of alignment and a nerve becomes irritated or compressed, it’s not just about pain. Information from your brain to your body aka your nervous system can’t do its job properly too.
Neck misalignment causes a domino effect of consequences
Have frequent headaches? Misalignment, or in chiropractic terms, subluxation, could be the culprit. Shifts in the neck’s vertebrae can add pressure on surrounding nerves, which limits nerve and blood flow to the brain and can cause tension headaches.
Other possible symptoms run the gamut from migraines, brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, jaw tension, vision problems, sleep disturbances to hand and finger numbness.
Then there’s your posture. When your head is forward, your entire upper back is rounded, which affects your breathing capacity and also causes the muscles around the chest to tighten.
Back to that anatomy lesson: In between each vertebra is a cushion called a disc. It keeps the spinal cord and extending nerves in place, acts as a shock absorber and facilitates movement in the spine. An untreated spinal curvature adds excessive pressure on a disc, which may lead to a slipped disc and in more severe cases, a pinched nerve. It can also cause long-term complications such as disc degeneration diseases.
See what we mean about domino effect?
What proper neck alignment looks like
Under an X-ray, a healthy cervical spine (your neck) should resemble a backward "C"– similar to the C-shape of a banana. If this curve is lost, it'll look like a straight line or the curve may reverse i.e. the mirror opposite of a healthy neck.
Here's how you can check it at home: Your ears should be aligned with the centre of your shoulder. Imagine a string lifting your head up, lengthening your spine and increasing the space between each vertebra.
“It might feel uncomfortable for a lot of people, because they’ve been doing it wrong for so long,” Dr Ng says.
Break the habit and make it stick
A combination of postural awareness (even whilst sleeping! See more of Dr Ng's tips here) and exercises can help with poor neck alignment. But improvements typically don't happen overnight, because just as neck misalignment occurs gradually, correcting it requires patience and effort.
“Over time your body develops muscle memory," Dr Ng says. "Your muscles might have become accustomed to the malposition of certain bones for years. Naturally, retraining the muscle memory will take some time.”
If you're experiencing any discomfort, seek out a chiropractor (and one who is a member of The Chiropractic Association (Singapore)) who can correct spinal misalignments and ensure that the vertebrae are in their optimal position, and importantly, help you gain awareness about proper alignment and train you to get it right.
FYI The Chiropractic Association (Singapore) is the only professional register of qualified chiropractors here
In Singapore, chiropractic care is categorised as alternative medicine and is therefore not formally regulated by the Ministry of Health. It's up to you to look for qualified practitioners registered with the association, which "self-regulates" its members with a code of practice, ethics and advertising guidelines.
Why bother at all? For starters, you'll be in the safe hands of a chiropractor who is trained to internationally-recognised education standards. Chiropractors go through a rigorous education of at least four years, and the syllabus is certified by an independent international body, the Council of Chiropractic Education. Second, you won't be pressured into buying unnecessary "packages" – only receiving the right amount of care and treatment you actually need.
Singapore-born Dr Kelvin Ng is the clinical director of Family Health Chiropractic Clinic. He graduated summa cum laude from Sherman College of Chiropractic, U.S.A, where he also won the Milton W. Garfunkel Award, the highest award given to each graduating class for having exhibited superior abilities in the academic, clinical, and philosophical aspects of chiropractic.
Dr Ng is a current professional member of The Chiropractic Association (Singapore), where he served on the executive committee for numerous years. He is a mentor for the Koren Specific Technique (KST), and is also trained to provide chiropractic care to babies, infants and children. He is also certified in the Webster Technique by the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association to provide chiropractic care to pregnant women.