From Dr. Mueller’s Case Files: The Surprising (and Treatable!) Cause of Certain Neck Pain

I recently had a consultation with a fifteen-year-old competitive swimmer, who listed “neck pain” as the chief complaint. However, when I asked exactly where the pain was located, the patient pointed to the muscle stretching from the top of the scapula into the top of the neck.

One word immediately came to my mind…STOMACH. I inquired with the patient and parents about a history of stomach or digestive issues, to which they looked at me in amazement. For the past year or more, in the middle of each meal, their child was overcome by immediate bloating and urgent diarrhea. This was during each main meal – three times per day!

After a little more digging, I discovered a digestive sensitivity going all the way back to the patient’s baby formula. Fast forward to my intervention and treatment, and one week later, the bloating is gone, the diarrhea is gone, and about 30 minutes after her main meals the patient has a regular BM with well-formed stool. The tension/pain/soreness in the upper back and neck have decreased to that attributed to the rigors of intense training.

How did I know what the problem was?

This case is a classic presentation of a visceral (internal organ) somatic (muscle) reflex. Basically, an internal organ is being stressed and the muscle which is on the same “circuit” near the spinal cord is being stimulated to fire, causing the muscle to stay in a partially contracted state (tension). Eventually, this impairs movement in the spine where the muscles connect to the vertebra. Reduced movement in the spine is an invitation for the brain to perceive pain and OUCH….you feel back pain!

Surprisingly, viscerosomatic reflexes are present in a very high percentage of people complaining of neck and back pain. They are rarely considered by the primary care physician, but are very easily treated. Experiencing similar symptoms? Let’s schedule a consultation and get your gut healthy.

– Dr. Mueller