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Unrelenting head muscle tension after neck disc bulge. Help? :(

shuandrewsshuandrew Posts: 6
edited 07/05/2012 - 12:02 PM in Neck Pain: Cervical
Hi all,

About six months ago, I was diagnosed with having bulged a disc in my neck. For several months I could not move my neck at all due to the pain. After much physio, my neck is 95% now pain free, and range of motion is good.

However, the muscles in the back of my head - at the bottom of my skull where my head meets my neck (used in nodding), and on the left and right sides where the two big neck muscles connect to my head (used for looking left and right) - are still extremely stiff. When I twist my head, I often hear a crunching and popping (like a muscle knot releasing). Again, this is in my head and not my neck. Here is a rough diagram of with the main areas of stiffness highlighted: http://s8.postimage.org/5nadcw52d/back_of_head.png

This crazy tension makes me feel like I cannot comfortably look left and right - I can, but there is pain where the muscle refuses to go any further, and makes simple stuff like looking left and right to cross the road or looking in one direction for any length of time difficult because the muscle just wants to pull back to centre.

I stretch my neck several times every day (rotation, flexing, chin tuck, etc.) and my physio has attempted acupuncture several times without success, and I don't know what to do any more. Again, my neck isn't the problem and this doesn't feel like a tension headache... more like bunches of really tight muscles and knots that refuse to release and let me turn my head naturally and freely.

Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to be as clear as I could. If anyone has any help or suggestions for what I can do, I would be incredibly grateful.

Thank you. :)


  • There is such a thing as over stretching and over exercising muscles. I've been told by a few physical therapists that stretching too much can cause the muscle to rebound. Two times a day of stretching should be enough. Sometimes less is more. Also, have you tried trigger point massage or injections?

    How long ago did your symptoms start? Did they do an MRI? Does heat therapy help? Do you work in front of a computer all day?
    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
  • shuandrewsshuandrew Posts: 6
    edited 07/05/2012 - 1:54 PM
    Hi Lili,

    Thank you for your reply :) What you say about over-stretching is really interesting, because a lot of the time I am pre-occupied with the tension and often just hold it a long time in one position out of habit, in the hope it will release. Sometimes doing this feels like I'm making the situation worse rather than better - maybe the rebound you describe? Do you think I should just set aside specific times in the morning and evening to stretch and try to be 'normal' apart from that, and not worry about it? I am an anxious person by nature, and I don't think that is helping the situation!

    I am not having trigger point massage or injections. I live in the UK and am seeing a physiotherapist privately. I'm not sure if she does massage or injections, but I will enquire on my next visit.

    These tightness symptoms have been present for about 3 months, ever since my neck pain and stiffness began to subside. Both those are gone now, but this "head muscle" thing remains and is incredibly frustrating :( I have not had an MRI, only an x-ray of my neck which came back completely normal. I hold heat a heated wheat bag on it from time to time, but don't notice any considerable difference. Can you recommend a better method or heat therapy regime?

    Edit: I should add that when i stretch it, I am forcing the stretch into what would be a naturally full range of motion and holding it there, even though the muscle is hurting and begging to be let back to normal. Is this a bad idea?

    I am jobless now due to my neck pain and do spend a lot of time in front of the computer, but never for long periods at a time, as holding my head in one position seems to exacerbate the symptoms, so I always try to wiggle my neck and get up for a wander.

    Any more advice or suggestions you have for me, I am extremely grateful for.

    Thank you.
  • It seems a bit presumptuous to diagnose your condition as having bulging cervical discs without an MRI. An MRI is used to see the condition of soft tissue, such as the discs in your spine. Sometimes knowing that you "have a disc problem" can actually set you into more stress and leading to further pain. My suggestion is that you should slow down on the stretching and never push your stretches to the point of pain. Some people benefit from heat and others from ice or a combination of the two. Maybe you might benefit from ice if there's inflammation from the overstretching. It's all trial and error. I just use a regular heating pad, but physical therapists here in the US use moist heating wraps. I only stretch once in the morning and once before bed at the most.

    Muscles tightness and spasms can be either related to a nerve impingement or muscular injury that leads to weakness. Although I would recommend an MRI, I don't know if it's very expensive in the UK to have one done. I've seen at least 5 different physical therapists with varying opinions on how to relieve pain. The best advice I've gotten from my last one so far is to "listen to your own body". A physical therapist can give you exercises that work for the average person diagnosed with your same condition, but remember that many times the diagnosis is incorrect and the exercises just don't work. So now, I just listen to my body and do only what doesn't cause more pain. If something aggravates it, I stop doing it. Forcing you muscles into anything it doesn't like will only cause more injury.

    One last advice is to take frequent breaks from the computer and move around. Walking is an excellent exercise that keeps all your joints moving and muscles working. You can power walk to get the heart rate up if you want something more challenging. Swimming might also be very helpful. My mom is able to manage her cervical spine issues from short daily swims. Good luck and keep me posted on whether things start to improve with a new approach.
    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
  • Your physio should be able to apply trigger point therapy to relax a muscle that is in spasm. Gentle massage should also help.

    I have found that the best treatment for my muscle tension problems over a long time came from taking a strong daily dose of magnesium chloride.
    I drink it heavily diluted in water, but you can also get capsules and powders.

    Best thing I've ever taken for my severe and chronic neck/ shoulder muscle pain.
  • Hi Lili,

    Thanks again for your reply.

    I am going to heed your advice and only stretch twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. I am also going to look into moist heat wraps, and try them in combination with ice packs to see if that helps.

    When you say that "muscle tightness and spasms can be either related to nerve impingement or muscular injury that leads to weakness," are my symptoms in line with that? One weird symptom I forgot to mention in my original post is that if I put any weight on my head - like wearing a hat or sunglasses - the tense head muscles instantly seem to ease up and move freely, although my head does feel a bit wobbly as a result. Maybe that's just because I'm not used to the feeling of free movement? I don't know. My physio was none the wiser about it either. With the muscles so tense, it also feels like my head wants to tip back very slightly, something the hat/helmet/sunglasses relieves too. I have been doing neck strengthening exercises too, as at one point I was unable to lift my head off the bed. This is much better, but the tension makes it more difficult than it should be. If you have any thoughts on any of this, I would be extremely grateful to hear them.

    Thanks again for all of your advice, I am keen to see how I get on by taking things a bit easier :)
  • Hi Peter B, thank you very much for your reply.

    I will certainly raise the possibility of trigger point therapy and massage when I see my physio next week. I will also look into magnesium chloride. As is stands, I am not in much pain with the tension, except when I try and push the muscle beyond the point where it wants to go whilst moving my head.
  • Lili_InuLLili_Inu Posts: 633
    edited 07/06/2012 - 9:42 AM
    I am not a doctor and could never give you a medical diagnosis or tell you what your condition is. Many times, ligaments can be involved, alignment issues, etc. Just remember to give yourself a day off in between strengthening exercises. Many physical therapists are actually against neck exercises because they believe the neck spasms are coming from upper traps weakness, while others believe in strengthening them. Ultimately, you will have to figure out what works for you. This may take a long time, but hang in there! :-)
    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
  • Just wanted to give a quick update. Since I posted last, I have been using heat (long thin wheat bag resting on my head/neck) and stretching only in the mornings and evenings. I don't want to be too presumptuous, but something definitely feels different in a good, not so unbelievably stiff that I want to wrench my head off kinda way. I stop stretching when the muscles ache. Thank you once again Lili_Inu and Peter B, your advice has helped greatly. I think I was just getting really frustrated and causing myself more anguish by forcing the stretching before and getting the rebound effect you described.

    Is it okay to post again in a few weeks to update again? I don't know if it is right of me to be bumping old threads. :)
  • KarenDKKarenD Posts: 742
    edited 07/09/2012 - 3:19 PM
    I just read your thread. It's good to hear when someone is getting relief. I continue to have the tightness you describe. I'll have to try out some new ideas or re-try old. You could add to this thread or start a new one with your update.

    take care.
    4 level ACDF C4-C7 5-2-11, laminectomy & discectomy L4-L5 1/26/12, ALIF L4-5, L5-S1 12/10/12.
  • It really is all about knowing the limits of your body and listening to it. Pain is the way the body tells you that something is not right. Listen to it! I've learned the hard way by pushing through the pain and trying to strengthen, but not realizing that my muscles did not like it!

    Please do update us and let us know how you get on! Wishing you more improvements in the weeks to come! :-)
    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
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