Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

A year ago this month my neck locked up. Practically overnight, I lost the ability to look over my shoulders. Even changing positions at night on my pillow became painful.

For four months I did nothing. I kept waiting for my problem to resolve itself.

Bodies heal, right? Only mine didn’t.

I became known as the Stiff Man.

Why would a neck suddenly lose its swivel? Had I stuck my journalist’s nose into situations where a nose ought not to go?

I waited until my annual physical to discuss my plight with a doctor. X-rays were ordered. Nothing too weird showed up. Get thee to a physical therapist, my doc ordered.

I wrote a column about me and physical therapy last July. After two weeks of gentle neck exercises and heat wraps, I reported uncertain results.

Maybe physical therapy was working. Maybe it wasn’t. Dark moods clouded my perceptions.

The therapist suggested a variety of reasons why a neck would suddenly acquire the flexibility of a pogo stick. They boiled down to poor posture. Was I slumping in front of my computer?

And what if I was? Are you telling me there’s another way to sit?

At my sixth and final session, she gave me a list of exercises that I could do at home, at work, anywhere, as long as I didn’t mind people looking at me funny.

I was to do them three times a day. If things improved, I could cut back.

I was gung ho at first. I twisted and tilted morning, noon and night. Using a rice pack warmed in a microwave, I applied heat while watching TV.

My neck responded, although not in an overnight, miraculous kind of way. It slowly became more limber. I could go long stretches during the day and not think about it.

Only at night, when my head lay on a pillow, did the limits of my “cure” reveal themselves. I couldn’t flip without pain.

I swapped one pillow for another. I tried sleeping with no pillow. Nothing helped much. That’s when Cheryl took pity and offered me her favorite pillow.

Yes, she has a favorite. It’s buried among the many that she piles up on her side of the bed.

It was a flimsy thing. More like a cotton wafer. It more properly belonged in a doll house.

But it was perfect. I could flip all night long without wincing.

Was I cured? Not exactly, but I was functionally a normal person. Anything you can do with your neck, I could do with mine, with just tinges of discomfort.

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Not wanting to regress, I kept exercising, although not as regularly as before. In the name of efficiency, I began combining my neck twists and tilts with my pre-dawn jogging.

How does that even work?

It’s easy. While running, I repeatedly look over each shoulder as far as I can twist my head. Then I do head tilts.

These gyrations throw me off balance and cause me to zigzag, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the pre-dawn. There’s no traffic. Except for parked cars, I have the entire street to myself.

At first my combining running with neck work was discombobulating. It kind of ruined the joy I feel being at one with the night.

Then I got used to it. The first half mile is for my neck. The miles after that are for the rest of me.

I got a prescription last November for another six sessions of physical therapy, but I haven’t redeemed it. My neck is good-enough.

I’m not the only person aware of my path back to adequate functionality. Cheryl has also been observing.

Last week she asked for her pillow back.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.