Tuesday 22 November 2016

How Your Eyes Relate To Your Head and Neck Pain

Try this at home: Sitting comfortably, find the muscular soft spot at the top of your neck, just below the base of your skull. Use the pads of your finger tips to slowly strum through the tissue and gently sink into the tissue. Now, move your eyes around. You should feel the muscles twitching underneath your touch. Fascinated now? Keep reading.

I've treated clients with concussion symptoms and whiplash quite a few times now. To some degree, there's always some involvement of the eyes in their symptoms, whether it's pain, disorientation, or inability to focus. Most of us would never have thought about the importance of the eyes with these movements before, but when you think of it, it makes sense.


Eye movement, like every other movement of the body, is initiated by muscles. The muscles of your eyes are small and sensitive, due to the fine control needed for sight. Of these many muscles, the suboccipitals in your neck (sub=below; occiput=the base of the skull) are of high clinical significance.

I've talked before about how pain and spasm work. You experience an injury, your brain senses pain and instability, it causes spasm of the muscles to protect the area, more pain results, and we cycle through over and over again.

When it comes to the topic at hand, when the neck or head experience trauma (such as a concussion or whiplash from a car crash), the suboccipital muscles are among the structures that are sent into this protective spasm. As well-meaning as your body is by doing this, this contributes greatly to the symptoms that follow. As tension increases and the strength and motor control of those muscles is lost, many people will become plagued with symptoms such as migraines, vision problems, eye pain, neck pain, and more.

So to alleviate your symptoms, what can be done. Massage? Yes, but also no. How many of you with these conditions have tried that with only semi-successful results? The pain may go away for the rest of the day, yet it returns soon enough.

Like with any other injury, massaging those suboccipital muscles is only half the work. Remember, the problem is that these muscles are spasming, weak, and lacking motor control. Manual therapy will take care of some of the spasm, but strengthening and reteaching control of the eye movements is mandatory to fully rehabilitate the condition.

Since cluing into these relationships, I've since incorporated eye-tracking assessments and exercises into my rehab programs for clients with neck and head injuries, and these methods have had the most drastic effect on patient recovery over anything else. Once we're able to restrengthen the eye muscles, the spasm and tension in the neck settles down, and symptoms start to subside.

Like I said, the relationship between the eyes and these conditions is not an obvious one, but it's very understandable once brought to light. I'm happy to have found these conclusions, as being able to relieve these life-altering symptoms in shorter time has been very rewarding.

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