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The Root Cause of Neck Pain

Maria Hansen

How many ladies have issues with neck pain in dancing? Do you find yourself

praying to get through the round when you’re just in the middle of the Viennese Waltz?

Do you love dancing the Ballroom, but hate the fact that you have to see the

chiropractor after every competition, or worse, after each lesson!? And to top it off, do

you never seem to be able to get your head in the position your teacher wants it or if

you do manage to, you just can’t maintain it? Do you ever wonder why this is happening

to you, why is this so hard, and what can you do to fix it?

After I retired from competitive dancing, I was determined to find out the reason

why so many ladies suffer through this pain, what is causing it and what can we do to fix

it. I wanted to find a different approach because, as a dancer, I wasn’t really finding the

root cause to the problem, mainly because I didn’t understand the body from a

kinesthetic point of view. I wasn’t satisfied with the answers that were given to me so I

decided to look outside of the dance business and that is what brought me to the CHEK

Institute. The CHEK Institute (Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology) was founded by

Paul Chek, a world famous trainer of athletes as well as a naturopathic doctor and

respected teacher. The CHEK Institute has a two-fold approach to training athletes...

1)Assessment of Posture and Postural Correction and 2) Functional Exercise Programs

geared toward the sport.

As we all know, posture is extremely important in dancing, not only for aesthetics,

but also for our health. If we do not have optimal posture, our body compensates in

various ways which often manifests itself as pain. Also, if you do not have optimal

posture, some movements are just plain difficult and unnatural to do.....for

example...lowering action in Waltz, hip action in rumba, CBM, connections, shaping,

fluidity...I could go on and on. But that brings us to the question...What is optimal


There are several components that I look for when I am assessing posture:

curvature of both the thoracic and lumbar spine, pelvic tilt, core strength and control,

muscle imbalances, forward head posture and first rib angle. What I would like to

address in this particular article is First Rib Angle.

First Rib Angle refers to the angle of the first rib (located basically underneath

your collar bone) and the point at which the cervical spine (neck) meets the thoracic

spine (upper back). If you were to place your finger on your sternal notch (the little hole

in the base of your throat where your collar bones meet) and the space between C7 and

T1 of your upper back, an angle can be measured. That angle is the First Rib Angle.

The optimal angle for the average person is 25 degrees, but unfortunately, a majority of

the population have much steeper angles. I have measured angles as much as 40-45

degrees. So what that basically means is that the entire shoulder complex is tipped

forward and does not sit properly on the rest of the spine. (I think we can thank the

computer age for that!). When the lady is in dance position, I like to see her have the

ability to change the angle to around 10-15 degrees which means that the upper back

needs to be able to extend. But oftentimes, when the rib angle is too steep, it causes

the lady to have a “fixed” upper back and doesn’t really allow her to change the angle in

an effortless way. So how does that affect the lady in dance position? Picture this...you

go to your lesson and your teacher asks you to put your head back (either that or he

shoves the ladies head back which, incidentally, annoys me to no end!). What do you

do? You probably stretch the muscles in your neck in a vain attempt to put your head

where you think it should go, often times straining the muscles in the neck and

producing a very contrived look. Or, you lean back from your lumbar spine (lower back)

making you look and feel very heavy to your partner and causing lower back pain in the

process. Or, maybe you tighten the latissimus dorsi in an effort to pull your shoulders

back but in the process you become as stiff as a board and it still doesn’t really correct

the first rib angle. It’s not about “using muscles” to keep you in the right position...if you

are in the proper posture, then your muscles will support you in a relaxed manner

without excessive activation. The problem is that you don’t have the bones in the right

place to support the position or the weight of the head. The ladies dance position should

be easy and natural to attain and to hold, without the intentional activation of muscle

groups to keep it there. The true support comes from the positioning of the bones and

the first rib angle on the spinal column. Sometimes, the solution is easy and it’s just an

awareness issue of knowing where the bones should sit, but other times there is an

imbalance in the musculature of the chest and back that lock the rib angle down and

don’t allow you to naturally lift the rib angle. If that is the case, then you will need a

corrective program to solve the problem consisting of stretches, strengthening exercises

and spinal mobilizations. But rest assured...correcting a rib angle problem is possible!

Pain in the neck can be a thing of the past!