Today we’re going to be talking about having a smarter neck for better vision.
One of the really interesting things about the Z-Health system is that we talk a lot about the eyes and how to improve the eyes. There’s multitudes of drills that we use and assessments but one of the things that often bypasses people is that we actually start the Z-Health system working on what is called proprioception, or developing movement skills and better understanding between the brain and the body.
Why this is really important is that your upper neck, your upper cervical spine is really well known to cause visual problems after injury. If you look at the research literature around whiplash accidents, concussions, head trauma, other neck injuries, it’s really really common for people to complain about headaches, TMJ or jaw pain, a wide variety of other issues.
One thing that often comes up is visual disturbances.
Traditionally you may go to your eye doctor, you may see a Z trainer and maybe we look at you and do some vision drills and potentially that helps but one of the things we’re always looking for in our system is, okay, if something’s not working what’s another potential answer rather than just banging our head against the same wall over and over.
By the way, I’m wearing this hat not because I didn’t wash my hair, I don’t have any left, this is actually part of the drill we’re going to do so that’s why the hat is on.
What I want you to do today is we’re going to actually focus on some very specific neck work inclusive of the tongue position that we talked about in the last blog. What I would love for you to do is use either a Snellen chart or a multi sight fonts chart as your pre-assess and re-assess tool.
This kind of freaks people out in the beginning when I say, “Listen, what we’re going to do is we’re going to test your eyes, we’re going to do some neck exercises and then re-test your eyes to see if they got better.”
This really surprises people that this can happen but it happens over and over and over again. In fact, in our classes last weekend we had about 80 trainers here, advanced trainers, people that have been doing a lot of work and even within that group we had roughly 60% that saw improvements in visual acuity from doing some of the neck and tongue exercises that we’re going to be talking about.
I want you to make sure for this one, rather than just seeing how your neck feels, test your eyes. Snellen chart and multi sight font chart, those are in previous blogs if you don’t have them you can download them.
Here’s what we’re really interested in. If you reach up and find the back of your skull, the base of your skull, there’s a group of muscles sitting just underneath there that lots of people love to have some pressure put in. That’s called the your suboccipital muscles. This particular area of your cervical spine is incredibly important because it has an extremely high density of what are called mechanoreceptors. These are small nerve endings that tell you where you are in space.
Why that is so vital is that the back of your neck and skull have to be communicating very closely with the rest of your brain in order to keep your eyes level with the horizon and make some other great stuff happen for you.
As I said, what we often find is people with prior neck injuries or head injuries very often have disturbed vision. When we work on strengthening and mobilizing the upper cervical spine a lot of times their vision will also improve.
What I want to do is take you through a series of very simple exercises. It’s extremely important that you keep the tension low to begin with because this area may be very touchy, a little sensitive, it may be a little sore. I don’t want you to overdo anything. Keep it three out of ten, whatever we’re doing. Whether we’re stretching it or whether we are doing some contraction work.
The basics that we are going to begin with are, first of all, before we do any neck exercises, we want to think back to the blog last week, get our tongue in the correct position. If you didn’t watch that blog, please go watch it.
Simple thing, getting your tongue in the right position helps stabilize your neck and will make all this work better. We’re going to start off with what’s called the cheesy grin. Get a little swallow so that you know where your tongue is supposed to be which is, the tongue just in back of the front teeth and the rest of the tongue up against the roof of the mouth.
As we go through these movements try to hold your tongue in that position and breathe through your nose. What we’re going to do is we’re going to start off with a stretch, if you will, or a mobilization of the upper cervical spine and the way that I’m going to demonstrate that for you is by using my hat.
I want you to imagine that you’re wearing a baseball cap. You’re going to get nice and tall, get your tongue in the spot and you’re going to just tuck your chin really tightly. The way that you’re going to focus on this, you’re going to imagine that you have a hat on and I want you to think about taking the very front of the brim and touching it to your chest.
As you think about getting it to your chest I want you to think about bringing it higher and higher and higher up on your chest. What that will do is, you think about the brim rolling around, it will give you a very significant stretch feeling in the base of your skull.
What you’re going to do is your going to go into that position, again keeping it light, three out of ten, focus on the brim of the hat. Good. From here we want to do a little strengthening exercise. We’re going to actually come up in that same area where we were feeling the stretch, we’re now going to extend, we’re going to take the brim of the hat straight up to the ceiling and we’re going to contract.
Once you’ve got a good contraction, use your hands, reach the back of your skull and pull up toward the ceiling so you get a little isometric contraction and then gently relax.
If you go too hard you’ll know because it’s going to feel quite uncomfortable when you relax out of it so again, keep the tension low. You should have felt a really significant stretch across the back of the skull and then a really nice contraction.
Let’s take a quick look at this from behind so you can see where my hands are going. What you’re going to see here, if I find the base of my skull, this is the base of my skull, the muscles directly underneath that are where we’re going to be targeting for these exercises.
To see kind of the first motion from behind, what it’s going to look like is this. I’m going to take the brim of the hat, roll it forward. Again, trying to bring it higher and higher on the chest so I’m getting a nice stretch through here. Once I feel like I’ve opened it enough I’m then going to come up and go into extension, getting good contraction through here.
Use my hands in this position to create some isometric tension for six seconds. Six, five, four, three, two, one. Then gently return to standing.
Now that we’ve done that we want to go to each side so we’re going to do this on a diagonal now. I’m going to work on basically the back left side of my head. To do that I’m going to turn my head slightly to the right, I’m going to repeat the same exercise. Think about the brim and now I begin bringing it to my chest, rolling it forward, that’s creating this nice stretch, hold for a few seconds and then I’m going to reverse that.
I’m going to come up, again pointing the brim up, nice little contraction and then give myself a little resistance for a count of six, five, four, three, two, one. Then relax. Then we will repeat that to the opposite side. Here, once again the brim of the hat is going down, focus on moving that toward the chest.
Then opposite direction, find that nice little contraction just at the top of the neck, push into it, six, five, four, three, two, one and gently relax. Awesome.
What I would like for you to do is aim to do between one and maybe three repetitions of that and no more. There are a couple of important things, if you get dizzy at all doing this, stop. If you had any history of maybe, if you have a prior history of what’s called TIA’s or if you’ve ever had a stroke, ever had any significant surgeries or injuries in your upper neck I would recommend that you ask your doctor about this before you do this exercises.
It’s generally very safe but one of the things that we are a little bit concerned about is getting into this extended position rotation. Just go cautiously, if you have any concerns about this consult your healthcare provider.
Otherwise, once you’ve done your two, I said one to three repetitions, grab your chart and re-test your eyes.
Most of the time what we’ll see, like I said in 60 to 70% of the people that we work with, if they’ve had some kind of injury that makes us think about this a small amount of work, improving the proprioceptive input while holding the correct tongue position should have some positive impact on your visual acuity.
Give it a shot. Let us know how that goes for you. If you have any questions about this one please let us know. Otherwise good luck and I will see you next week.