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The Chronic-ness of Chronic Neck Tension

Updated: May 24

What should we do when neck tension doesn’t go away? Often, we try to mitigate it through stretching, or manual therapies like massage and chiropractic adjustments, or we change the ergonomics of our work environments in hopes of alleviating it, even in just small measures. These approaches can help keep the discomfort at bay, but the tension always seems to linger in the background, affecting how we go about our daily lives. Chronic neck tension, in short, limits what we can do and who we can be.

If you’ve made all kinds of accommodations for your neck tension but it still persists, you may find that the tension is actually a result of primitive reflexes that you have retained from infancy. Ideally, those reflexes become part of our nervous system as we grow, and the signals they send lose their individual patterning and become part of the sensory-rich feedback system we use to understand the world. To make this a little more concrete: When the reflexes are fully integrated, it’s like getting accustomed to the background noise around your house. You notice if there’s a leaf blower outside, but you don’t notice every single car that passes by, or every leaf moving on every tree. Eventually, the tone of the muscles and nerves will respond to the whole feedback system by increasing and decreasing tension according to the demands perceived by that system, for short durations. You’ll get nervous for a presentation, but you’ll relax afterward. When our primitive reflexes fully integrate, the tension we build in our bodies because of those reflexes becomes temporary. When these reflexes remain active, our nervous system stays in a heightened state, keeping our muscles and nerves overly sensitive. Instead of being able to relax after that presentation, you might stay tense for hours, days, or weeks. And that tension has a cascading effect for other elements of your life: quality of sleep, digestion, creativity, energy level, etc.

The limitation of manual therapies is that they only focus on one aspect of the nervous system. They don't address the root cause of the problem, which lies in the primitive reflexes. Integrating these reflexes into our nervous system can help our muscles and nerves better regulate tension levels, leading to shorter and less frequent periods of discomfort

Managing chronic neck tension often involves a combination of multiple approaches. Adding primitive reflex integration to your rehab plan can be a key factor in learning how to manage stress more effectively.

Outlined below is a sample treatment plan designed to address chronic neck tension:

Sessions 1-3: Standard Transforming Touch 7 Point Protocol

Purpose: Establish trust and familiarity with the therapeutic process.

Approach: Use the Transforming Touch 7 Point Protocol as developed by Stephen Terrell, PsyD to introduce the client's nervous system to the therapy and build a foundation for future work. The protocol brings gentle touch, awareness and support to your adrenal glands and brainstem as well as bilateral stimulation and ends with small movements of your feet to stimulate your limbic brain.

Sessions 4-8: Transforming Touch 7-point protocol plus Fear Paralysis Reflex (FPR) Integration

Purpose: Address any active FPR that may be interfering with the integration of other reflexes.

Signs of Active FPR: Shallow breathing, insecurity, feeling overwhelmed, depression, aversion to touch.

Approach: Gentle side to side leg movements

At this point in your treatment, you should notice some welcome changes in your inner life.  Examples: less road rage, a feeling of inner calm/less triggered, decrease in physical pain/tension, more aware of emotions.

Sessions 9-13: Transforming Touch 7-point protocol plus Moro (Startle) Reflex Integration

Purpose: Address the Moro Reflex, which helps babies start breathing & cry right after birth

Signs of Active Moro: Difficulty with transitions, sensitivity to stimuli, high anxiety, muscle tension in jaw, neck, shoulders, and trunk.

Approach: Gently taking the body through the movements of the Moro Reflex with support of your therapist, this is done first with the arm movements and once well tolerated adding the leg movements as well.

Sessions 14-18: Transforming Touch 7-point protocol plus Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) Integration

Purpose: Address TLR, which helps us to balance and control our bodies in space

Signs of Retained TLR: Balance and coordination issues, motion sickness, difficulty judging distance or speed.

Approach: Your therapist gently takes you through the head movements of the TLR

Throughout the treatment plan, I monitor your progress and adjust the approach as needed. The goal is to gradually integrate these reflexes to improve overall well-being and reduce tension and discomfort.


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