That cough or sneeze has a deep reach

That cough or sneeze has a deep reach

by Charles S. Masarsky, D.C.
Stripes Okinawa

Along with many other volunteer health care providers, I was rendering chiropractic care for rescue workers in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. My group was organized by the International Chiropractors Association, and we were stationed in the parking lot of the Pentagon. We called that station “Camp Unity.”  In addition to conversation and machinery noise, there were the unmistakable sounds of coughing and sneezing. This was not surprising, given the Washington area ragweed season combined with the polluted air around the still-smoking Pentagon.

Like a Whiplash

Of course, coughing and sneezing are not unique features of terror attacks and natural disasters.  Allergies, air pollution, colds and flu make coughing and sneezing commonplace facts of life. What is often not appreciated is the resemblance between these actions and whiplash injury.

The first film to capture the action of a sneeze is also the first film to receive a U.S. copyright. If you watch Thomas Edison’s 1894 film, you will see his lab assistant Fred Ott undergo the familiar back-and-forth whipping action of a violent sneeze.

Image result for Edison sneeze photographs copyright free

Violent or repetitive sneezing and coughing strain the neck, shoulders, and upper back in ways very much like the whiplash of a car crash. Certainly, a rough bout of coughing and sneezing can leave these areas quite sore. However, the reach of this strain can go much deeper.

A Deep Reach

In 1995, University of Maryland anatomist Dr. Gary Hack and his colleagues discovered that the small muscles in the upper neck have a direct tissue connection to the meninges. In the years since the University of Maryland discovery, scientists have found that at least three muscles and one ligament in the neck have direct connections to the meninges. The meninges are the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord. When these connections are disturbed by injury or strain in the neck, not only can neck pain and headache result, but cognitive functions such as memory can suffer.

Don’t Throw Away That Mask!

A certain amount of coughing and sneezing is unavoidable. However, there are common-sense preventive measures you can take.           

With the pandemic phase of COVID-19 finally behind us, we don’t see as many people using face masks. Yet, they can still be a good idea at certain times. When you are taking care of someone with the flu or a bad cold, the mask may reduce your chances of being the next infection victim. When gardening, mowing the lawn, or raking leaves, you don’t need to be inhaling the pollen and mold spores these activities will kick up. When cleaning a particularly dusty area of your house or workplace, the mask can help keep the sneezing at bay. And as we’ve recently been reminded, large forest fires can pollute the air with smoke particles over a large area.

Every preventive measure in the world cannot make you bullet-proof to neck strain. If you find your neck strained from any cause, whether postural stress, coughing and sneezing, sports injury, a slip-and-fall accident, or a car crash, restoring normal joint mechanics will help you recover from the resulting pain as well as reducing meningeal stress. Your local Doctor of Chiropractic can explain the role of vertebral adjustments in this effort.

About the Author

While serving as a medical specialist (MOS 91-B) in the U.S. Army Reserve, Dr. Masarsky earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from New York Chiropractic College in 1981. He is in the private practice of chiropractic in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC with his wife and partner, Dr. Marion Todres-Masarsky. For research citations related to this article or appointment information, contact Dr. Masarsky at 703-938-6441 or Also visit his practice’s website, and You Tube channel: You Tube channel.

Sources for this Article

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