Everett Chiropractic Center Blog

December 27, 2009

Neck Injury Rehabilitation and the Tai Chi Spear Form

Tai Chi Spear Form

Huh? You might ask. What does the Tai Chi Spear Form have to do with rehabilitation? (That photo is linked to a YouTube video clip of one of my teacher’s students doing the Form.)

Here is how I found out the relationship: I bought a new Spear (Staff actually, since there is no blade on the end). It was longer, bigger and much heavier than any I had practiced with previously.

It felt heavy, and it was hard to do the Form with. I knew I needed to start out slow. The Spear Form is ideally the fastest and most dynamic of the forms – high velocity in other words. It takes less than 30 seconds when done at speed.

Think Range of Motion and Resistance

So what does this have to do with neck rehabilitation?

I’m getting there. The point so far is that you might not have even thought doing a Spear Form would affect the neck in any way. Wrong!

It took me completely by surprise one day that in the middle of the Spear Form I suddenly experienced moderately severe neck pain as the scar tissue surrounding an old injury was torn. If you have ever been to where you can’t lift your head off the pillow because it’s too painful, it was one of those events, for a couple nights. (So, obviously I also had to use ice, I got adjusted, I had massage, and I upped my supplements (especially the Purples and the Greens) etc. as part of my recovery – but this is about the exercise component.

I then recalled that earlier, when first doing the tai chi internal strength exercises, I had experienced a lot of stress to the neck while doing what essentially amounted to waving my arms and hands around with one or two pound weights in my hands.

So here is the point: The neck muscles, as largely postural muscles, often act to stabilize the body and hold it in place and upright while we do what we do – in this case with our arms and hands. So in the case of doing a Spear Form the neck muscles are highly active. And I had crossed the line that separated the demand I was placing on them from their functional capacity.

So the lesson is – as it always is – to honor progression. I will get to that in great detail in a near-future article because I think it is the least understand and most often violated principle in all of exercise.

Linked to another clip from our Lineage...

The good news is that the Tai Chi Spear Form is a good way to rehabilitate the neck.

How? By getting back to a small enough staff. By doing the Form very very slowly at first and building up speed very very gradually. By starting out doing only small movements and gradually making the shapes larger and larger. By maybe doing the Form only a couple or a few days per week for a period of time and then four, and then five days per week. In other words by following a progression that does not cause you to cross the line.

Why would you choose to use the Spear Form to rehab a neck? Because like all other aspects of Tai Chi you have many many other inherent benefits being trained simultaneously. The Cat Stance, the line – tail bone to crown of head, the relaxation, the breathing, the mental focus, etc., etc. It’s all functional upright exercise that closely mimics the actions and motions of an active life – less so the Figure 8 or Gooseneck exercises that I also diligently did (and do) and recommend every day all day to patients. Stay at the highest level of function you possibly can while still falling back far enough to effect the repair, rehab and recovery necessary.

Incidently, this business of us holding our neck with the chin down a bit and elongated, in line with the rest of our spine, and keeping it there while we do Tai Chi is a primary reason that Tai Chi is so useful as a rehabilitation tool. It trains “core” stability… including all of the amazingly complex neurological aspects that make it so functional.

One of the most powerful aspects of Tai Chi training that makes it ideal for rehab purposes is that it’s a “daily practice” or ideally can be. By doing something three days a week until it is easy, then four days a week until it is easy, then five days a week until it is easy you are following a progression that allows for the flucuations in life – you stay with three, or four, or five until it’s easy.

Once doing something five days per week becomes easy you can then change another variable, and if you want to, go back to three days per week and work back up to five days per week (I think of five days per week as “daily” practice because almost no matter how hard you try to do daily, life ends up making it closer to five days per week). In this case, I had to go back to one of the small staffs for a few weeks. Only when I could do the Spear Form at Speed five days per week for a couple of weeks did I feel that I could move up the heavy spear again.

You can bet that when I got back to the heavier spear, I went slow, very slow. And getting faster and faster was a very slow process. It is critical that you give the body time to catch up and adapt. It will if you do not cross the line from rehab to re-injury. Time, like everything else is relative, but eventually the heavy spear at speed as part of daily practice that includes both the left and right forms, as well as the left and right Sabre and left and right Hand Forms became comfortable and sustainably doable. My neck feels great now, and so would yours.

By the way, this is a great opportunity to reflect on what is actually be trained if the only thing that changes in the routine is the rest period – from three days per week to daily practice. That’s right, what’s being trained is recovery – think immune system function. Big deal. Really big deal.

Where ever you are in the cycle of injury (re-injury), repair, rehab or recovery, you can find a way to continue and progress in your tai chi training – another amazingly versatile feature of the art. It’s not a pleasant thought but it is easy to imagine a person being at each of those stages, all at the same time, with injuries to different body parts and still modifying and continuing to train… staying on the path.

If you understand what’s been said so far, then you can appreciate why I tell patients with new injuries (re-injuries) that they now have a great opportunity to create a recovery that can make them better than they were before they hurt themselves. Think about that. It’s not just theoretical: I’ve done it and so have many of my patients.

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9 Comments »

  1. Great article Dennis, thanks!

    Comment by wim — January 10, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

  2. Thanks for the chiropractic article. This is an innovative way to treat a neck injury!

    Comment by Doc Vaughn — February 20, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

  3. Excellent post. I want to thank you for this informative read, I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work. Loveland CO Chiropractor Loveland CO Chiropractic

    Comment by tripplex5663 — February 2, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

  4. I think your blog is great. Just keep on! I think so, I will be back again.

    Comment by Richard Kemme — April 6, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

  5. […] Neck Injury Rehab and the Tai Chi Spear Form Ergonomics Stress Management Chinese wall squats (video clips) Tai chi as functional fitness (with videos) Multifidi, Dr. Slosberg, Stuart McGill “It’s all there.” Slosberg Handout on Chiropractic and Exercise/Natural History of Back Pain (Front Stance photos) CrossFit Article, “What is fitness?” – mention of Progressions and perspective Functional Exercise and the concept of “carry over” or… Lessons learned in a Montana Fire Camp Chiropractic, Tai Chi and the “Line” (The Vertical Axis) […]

    Pingback by Index of Chiropractic, Tai Chi and other Wellness Posts « Everett Chiropractic Center Blog — August 13, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

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