Cervical Rehabilitation: A Healing Process Update

Sarah StockettTom Petty told me, “The waiting is the hardest part.” At the time, I was sure he was referring to the bone healing process. Perhaps I was wrong, though. Maybe he was talking about the cervical rehabilitation process.

These past two months without my neck brace have been the hardest for two reasons. First, the actual process of creating and attempting to correctly execute my own rehabilitation exercises feels like a daily exercise in futility. Second, with no neck brace, I constantly have a nagging neck pain. This makes the recovery process far worse than any other phase.

Even when I first broke my neck, I could comfortably sleep through the night. Without the support of the neck brace, I wake up in pain every hour or two. Even if I do take a full dose of Tylenol, it only keeps me asleep for about four hours. However, I have experimented and have some helpful tips to help your cervical rehabilitation process go smoothly.

Tips for Cervical Rehabilitation

  1. Variety is the spice of life. Change out the exercises you do. Make sure to work your head in all planes of space.
  2. Have a team. You shouldn’t do this alone. If you have someone who can make sure you’re exercising your neck correctly, use them.
  3. Try different forms of therapy. This directly pertains to #1 and #2. I very highly recommend that you get acupuncture and short massages. I know that 15-minute massages have worked really well for me. Personally, I found that an hour is too long for neck work for me right now. Start with a short time, and you can build from there.
  4. Prepare for bedtime. It may be odd, but I recommend that you build a pillow fort of sorts around your head. Or, I suppose you could buy one of those pillows with a deep divot in the middle and appropriate cervical support.

The Trouble With Sleeping

When you’re sleeping (or trying to sleep) is probably going to be the most painful time in your day. What happens is, as your body relaxes, your head starts to drift to one side. Because of your time in your neck brace, your neck muscles are both tight and weak.

Therefore, as your head drifts to the side, it feels okay for a short time. Unfortunately, about the time you start to drift off, you will be hit with an intense pain and the inability to comfortably bring your head back to center. Once the pain begins, your neck is indicating that it’s already overstretched. This means that the muscle has absolutely no interest in helping you bring your head back to center.

So, you use your hands to roll your head back to center. The process begins again. You start to drift off, your head rolls to the side, and then you awake to pain. It’s a frustrating cycle that will keep going unless you make a wise change–pillows.

It is worth it to spend some time setting up before you actually go to sleep. If you’re a side sleeper, check out your position. Are your head and neck supported enough so that you’re right up on your shoulder socket? Now, if you sometimes also sleep on your back, what are you going to do? Is there a spot on your pillow that is flat enough to offer the appropriate amount of cervical support?

Take the time to prepare before you turn out the light at night, and you’ll have a much better night’s sleep. With proper support, your neck will not be in quite so much pain. Plus, if you get a decent amount of quality sleep, you will feel better in the morning.

Please feel free to learn from my mistakes! I hope that this advice helps you and leads you down a smooth road of recovery.

Do you have any other tips for cervical spine rehabilitation? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.