Are your eyes causing your neck pain?
Updated: Feb 26
As a previous blog post discussed, our neck is an orientation device. It points our sensory systems (eyes, ears, nose, mouth) toward things of interest in our environment. One of those sensory systems is our eyes. When things of visual interest enter our environment, our neck helps orientate the eyes into position so we can take it all in visually.
This vision/neck relationship makes vision an important influencer of neck muscular activity. When we engage in lopsided visual activities that require repetitive or sustained head rotations, the effect on our neck muscles is no different than if we were to lift a weight all day long in one arm. After some time, that arm would become significantly stronger than the other not doing the lifting. Your arms would appear uneven and imbalanced. The muscles that control our neck are no different. Constant rotation to one side over the other creates an imbalance in our neck's muscular stability, which can contribute to neck pain and deconditioning, leading to degeneration.
We've jokingly coined a common observation we call "promotional syndrome." This patient may present after a "promotion" at work. Their new importance at work now means they have a desk setup with two monitors instead of one. They often come in with neck pain, quickly attributing it to the increased demands of their new position. While this may partly be true, a less complicated mechanism is more often at play. Office workers tend to follow what is depicted in movies, where desks with many control systems operating (think NASA) will position two monitors so they are split evenly down the middle. This is problematic because most workers often use one program on one monitor for most of the day. As a result, these workers engage in imbalanced sustained head rotations almost all day long! Just like lifting weight all day in one arm, this creates a muscle imbalance we can often see simply looking at the back of the neck!
Try this little experiment. Keep your head in the centre position but look to your left or right (moving eyes only) for a sustained amount of time. As you hold your vision off-centre, you will likely feel your neck drifting towards the side your eyes are looking at. Your neck does this to allow your eyeball to return to the centre of its socket where it feels the most comfortable. Visual activity, watching TV, gaming, or working on computer monitors will all be subject to this effect and pull the neck into an imbalanced state.
Are you always at office visits for chronic neck pain treatment? Does your office visit relief only lasts a few days? Is this the first time the visual neck relationship has been mentioned to you? If so, It's likely time for a second opinion. Hit the book now button and schedule a review with one of our chiropractors to discuss your neck pain and explore its possible origin to your visual activities. If vision is determined to play a significant factor, we will no doubt provide advice on how to make things visually more balanced in your situation and get that pain out of your neck!
While at Radix we have good knowledge about the visual system, we aren't eye experts! Given the importance of vision as it relates to neck function and neck rehabilitation, understandably, our office has excellent working relationships with several optometry clinics in the city. We will, of course, be happy to bridge a referral for you if needed. The effect of vision on neck pain is multifaceted, so we'll continue to discuss more factors involved in the visual relationship to neck pain in future posts.
Meanwhile, If you know someone who is a desk worker with chronic neck pain and/or headaches (we'll discuss the headache connection soon), send them a link to this blog!