Tattoos causing neck pain and headaches

The Origin of Neck Pain can be mysterious

I love a mystery. A new client complained of feeling less stability and strength over the last year. His visits to physiotherapists for a variety of small complaints hadn’t yielded any results. He found me through the  directory. In his interview, he mentioned a lot of neck tension and frequent headaches.  I asked about tattoos in my interview and he said he had several, including some dark ones.

Tattoos CAN cause motor control dysfunctions

Dark Clavicle Tattoo

It doesn’t happen very often, but tattoos can cause motor control dysfunctions. They are in fact scars – though generally ones that don’t go very deep. Very dark tattoos like this one affect motor control more often than lighter ones or ones that aren’t colored.  This client had gotten these tattoos just previous to when he had started to notice the decrease in stability in strength. I did some testing to check the coordination of the cervical spine muscles and found it lacking. However, stimulation of the tattoos improved their function.

These tattoos were downregulating his cervical extensors, especially the ones of the right. These muscles on the back of the neck are critical for holding the head up and for performing neck movements. Underactive muscles will often get toned up, stiff and painful. In fact, I have found that they are more often painful than overactive muscles. This client was compensating in various ways to make up for their inability to function properly. The toned up muscles there were certainly contributing to his frequent headaches.

Motor Control requires a variety of stimuli

Motor control is created through a feedback loop in which information is fed from the body to the cerebellum and back again. A huge amount of this information comes from the skin. Sometimes the body needs less information from a certain part of the body to work correctly. For example, less tension in an area around a scar sends less information about tension to the cerebellum. You can read more about that in this blog entry about scars and motor control

However, often the body needs MORE information, more stimulation, or just different information. For example, a muscle that isn’t contracting properly might need to activate to send more information, stimulating the mechanoreceptors for stretch.  A joint that is improperly positioned might require deep pressure stimulation in a particular direction in surrounding tissues to function optimally. This might be achieved with a deep tissue massage.

There are a lot of different types of mechanoreceptors. Combinations of different stimuli types mean that there is a much larger variety of types of stimulation. For example, shallow vibration and deep vibration combine reception from several different types of receptors.

Mechanoreceptors in Hairy Skin

Stimulation is paired with motor control retraining

This particular area wanted light touch stimulation -sensed by hair follicle receptors or Merkel’s disks. Once the area had been lightly stimulated for a minute or so his cervical extensors started responding in a coordinated way again. The lack of these stimuli was downregulating the cervical extensor muscles. In order to retrain the neck to work properly, those muscles have to be consciously activated soon after the stimuli are fed into the system. Basically, this reminds the motor control center of what this information should be used for.

Homework is often a key part of changing stability issues

Sadly the effect didn’t last very long. This doesn’t mean that the retraining will be ineffective, it just means that it will take more work to make it effective.  In order to retrain this area, he will have to stimulate the area, again and again, several times a day for probably for a few weeks, maybe longer. He will also have to pair the stimulation with the retraining of his cervical extensors. The homework was simple but critical. To retain positive effects on his reflexive stability and increase motor control he will have to stick with it.

If you are having trouble tracking down the origins of your issues, think about booking an Initial Assessment with me to do some in-depth analysis and get a fresh perspective