The One and Only... Occipital Float!
The Occipital Float has quietly become one of our Physical Therapists' favorite tools for treating neck pain. Many of you may be familiar with Susan Fain PT, DPT, and Dr. of Music, who brought an Occipital Float into the clinic after seeing one advertised at a manual therapy convention she attended. Admittedly, I may have been mostly skeptical, thinking it was a bit of overkill. However, the premise is undeniably solid. By laying down and placing your head on the “Float”, the joints of your neck effectively become unweighted. This offers a key advantage when trying to re-establish motion, since you’re no longer asking those cervical joints to support the 10-15 pounds of your head and instead allow them to glide freely and smoothly. What I certainly didn’t expect was just how much our patients were going to enjoy this tool. Inevitably when I tell a patient to get started with their exercises, the first thing they head to is the “Float.”
So I thought it may be helpful for those of you taking advantage of our special offer in the Newsletter this month to have a reminder of how to use it, or to give those of you who aren’t familiar a place to start. To begin, your head should be centered on the “Float”. I think this is most easily accomplished by holding the “Float” up to the back of your head while lying down on your back. Once centered, start by turning your head first to one side and then the other in a “pain free” range. This pain-free idea is incredibly important. For this tool to be effective, we utilize the natural, pain-relieving action of the joints to decrease inflammation. This may seem a bit counterintuitive, but by moving a joint in a comfortable range of motion, the natural healing of the body has a chance to kick in. I’ve found more often than not, pushing into the pain will cause inflammation to ultimately increase, causing the phrase “no pain, no gain” to lose all credence.
As you continue to move side to side, you will become more and more comfortable with that motion and find yourself able to stretch a little further (just make sure you are not producing pain!). We generally suggest about 3-5 minutes before moving on to the next exercise, which consists of looking up and then down. Lastly, start making circles with your nose first going clockwise, then counterclockwise. These are the patterns I have found to be the most helpful, but you may find a combination that you prefer. Just remember- it doesn’t have to hurt to get better!