Military Neck – What Is It & How To Correct It
Military neck is a term often used for straightening of the cervical spine. The normal curve is a slight “C” shape. The normal curve is termed a lordosis, and we often see x-ray reports stating loss of normal lordosis. It may often accompany degenerative disc disease or arthritis, where the loss of disc space alters the curve, or with muscle spasm that pulls the curve straight.
Should A Military Neck Be Corrected?
There are times when an x-ray may show a straightening of the neck. This may be from muscular spasm or from positioning when the x-ray is taken. Typically, medical x-rays taken lying down do not show the true biomechanical picture. Many chiropractic offices will take these x-rays standing, which shows a better biomechanical relationship, however; positioning can still make a difference. Allowing a normal posture should give a true picture, although, positioning the head down will straighten out the neck.
This condition should not be confused with forward head posture, which can look the same on the outside, but has a dual or additional component, in which part of it is a straight spine.
There are also some conditions like stenosis or facet syndrome, where correction may not be desirable. When keeping your head forward or chin down relieves any pain, along with acute or recent injuries, correction may not be a reasonable goal. However, with chronic conditions and contraindications eliminated, correction of a stick neck, as it is sometimes called, has many advantages.
Benefits Of Correcting Military Neck
Once there is a proper determination of the biomechanical nature of the cervical spine, correction is often a desirable goal. Having the proper curve in the neck allows biomechanical advantage in protecting from injuries, aiding in support of the head, relieving disc pressure, preventing degenerative changes, and reduces or minimizes muscle and joint tension. Surgeons are familiar with the importance of maintaining the normal cervical spine curve when performing surgical procedures.
- A 2015 study in the International Journal of Spine Surgery indicated patients that had cervical alignment restored sowed significantly better improvements in disability as well as improvement in neck pain. The authors suggested that restoring normal cervical alignment contributes better clinical outcomes in patients who have undergone cervical fusion surgery
- A 2016 study in the Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation found the addition of a device that you lay on to help restore the neck curve had a positive effect on those suffering from cervical radiculopathy due to disc problems, even at long term follow up.
- A 2016 Medical Science Monitor study found a significant association between loss of cervical lordosis and decreased vertebral artery hemodynamics, including diameter, flow volume, and peak systolic velocity.
- A 2016 study in the European Journal of Physical Rehabilitation Medicine showed how the addition of a device placed under the neck while lying down to restore the normal cervical curve contributed to improvements in neck pain, head re-positioning accuracy, and neck related dizziness. The effects of decreased symptoms and improved function lasted long term.
- A 2016 study in Clinical Biomechanics found that patients with loss of the cervical lordosis like military neck had reduced strength of neck muscles, particularly the extensors in the back of the neck. This may have implication for specific exercises in rehabilitation of the cervical spine.
- A 2008 study in the journal Spine examined the relationship between loss of cervical curve and degeneration of the disc. They found that higher grades of degeneration were associated with patients who had lessening of the cervical curve and military neck. The authors indicated the loss of the natural curve leads to altered motion, increasing it’s maximum loading and subsequent degenerative spinal changes.
- A 2021 study in Open Medicine found that loss of the normal cervical curve was significantly correlated with degenerative spinal disease on MRI.
The scientific literature, both non-surgical and surgical provides clear evidence that correcting the curve has a positive outcome for neck, upper back and shoulder pain, and may improve health related quality of life.
Taking an active role in restoring the neck curve is one of the best methods. There is nothing quick about this; it takes time and persistence. Methods including specific cervical spine exercises and specific traction methods can produce very good results. Using devices under your neck that promote the normal cervical curve can also aid in restoration.
For evaluation and management of problems, you should consult a chiropractor or physical therapist. Hands on management is always advised, and a health care professional specializing in spinal mechanics can guide you through the process.