Poorly designed uniformed shirts are a real pain in the neck…literally. They are the number two culprit on my list of reasons why your uniform wrecks your body. Generations of cops have been using uniform shirts with polyester blends that have no give when pulled tight. So what do we do? Pull them tight over a semi ridged vest. The vest and shirt combine to create a rigid mechanical system. Think about it like this: early airplanes were constructed by stretching canvas over a wood frame because it was light and made a mechanical system rigid enough to withstand the forces of flight. We do the same thing, but instead of achieving something cool we cast ourselves into the hunched back, forward head on neck shape. Your x-ray of the bone spur on your neck is pretty cool I guess.
The shape of your uniform is important.
If you’re going to have a form fitting uniform shirt that doesn’t give then it had better fityou perfectly. The number one thing I look for is the shape of the upper back and how the collar sits on the neck. Ideally you should be able to stand up and sit down in a good position without any increased pressure on the neck. Remember I said in a good position. We tend to hack this problem without thinking about it. The tension of the collar on the neck is a noxious stimuli so your body tries to avoid it. It has two choices:
- You can thrust your head further forward which at first seems ridiculous until you look around and see how many cops look like Skeskis from The Dark Crystal.
- The other option is the getting all puffy chesty. You can sit in a ribs flared shape with an overextended low back sometimes called “sway back”. This rotates mechanical stress to the back and away from the neck. Biomechanist Katy Bowman might argue that it’s actually rib thrusting and not over Whether it’s overextension or thrusting, it’s going to take its toll on your low back.
One key cue for standing and sitting in a better position is “rib cage down.” Try the basic bracing sequence and have a seat in your squad car. The vest will rotate down with your rib cage and your shirt will tag along pulling your head forward. If you lower your ribs and you feel your head/neck being pulled forward like you have a Flava Flav clock necklace hung round your neck, your uniform is poorly shaped. This exacerbates forward head on neck issues that spread to your thoracic spine and kill shoulder function.You can be laser focused on your position and fight the mechanical force pulling on your neck, but you will eventually lose position with your shirt collar pulling forward on your neck for hours.
If you find that this is an issue you can tuck the rear of your shirt in last and extra tight to try to pull some tension on from the collar away from the neck, but this is ultimately a temporary fix. Your shirt will work its way back and ends up looking like a soup sandwich and still puts pressure on your neck. Just give it a re-tuck and order a better shirt.The material your shirt is made of is important.
Chances are you’ve noticed how much more comfortable a training polo is pulled over a vest. This is largely due to the fact that most polo shirts are not only shaped better than common uniform shirts but most cop polos are now made with athletic fabrics that have a little stretch and give. Find a uniform shirt with similar qualities if you can, and your neck will thank you for it.
An exterior vest is a superior option.Putting the shirt under the vest disassociates the juggernaut of a single mechanical system into two lesser systems. Putting the shirt under the ridged structure of the vest keeps it from being pulled too tight, allows for slack and therefore less tension on the neck. Don’t have an exterior vest? Just try it with your concealed vest real quick to prove the point. Compression forces still pin the shirt between the vest and your body will keep them loosely connected but it’s fairly minor and easy to adjust for.
Simply enough having a uniform shirt with a head hole that comes out of the top of the shirt instead of the front made of stretchy athletic fabric that is placed under a vest is about as good of a situation as you can get. It’s still far from perfect, but remember the realistic goal is less bad. It’s still on you to spend time on daily maintenance especially getting in some thoracic extension to undo what we cant mitigate at work.