What's That Pain in Your Neck?
Your neck or cervical spine as it’s also called is composed of the base of your head and seven vertebrae. It is responsible for keeping our head upright and carrying its full weight which is approximately 10-12 lbs. The neck is capable of moving in various directions and is naturally very flexible. This flexibility, however, makes it susceptible to injury and pain.
Neck pain is… well, literally a pain in the neck. At some point in our lives, we will experience or have experienced neck pain. It can make carrying out your activities of daily living difficult and can even disable you. Depending on the cause of your neck pain, it may be necessary to seek medical treatment.
Below we will discuss some of the more common causes of neck pain that we see and treat at Simple Health. Please remember that in order to properly diagnose your particular neck condition, a physical and neurological examination is necessary and vital to determining the proper course of treatment.
Neck strain: A neck strain is an injury to the muscle fibers that attach to and move the cervical spine. Strains are graded on a scale from one to three, with the latter involving full tear of the muscle. A neck strain can be the result of repetitive movements, awkward positions such as looking down at your phone for extended periods of time and injuries. The cardinal symptom of neck strain is pain. Decreased range of motion is usually present as well. Depending on the severity, you may be unable to perform daily activities especially those that require you to move the neck. Muscle spasms can be present and will also limit your range of motion.
At our office, neck strains are treated using chiropractic adjustments to the specific vertebrae’s affected. If the strain is acute (happened few days prior) ice and electrical stimulation are also utilized to decrease inflammation and pain. The patient is educated on positions to avoid and given stretches to perform at home to help minimize pain and increase the range of motion. Depending on the severity, a neck strain can take a few weeks to fully heal.
Whiplash: Most commonly seen as a result of a motor vehicle accident, is an injury to the neck muscles. It is a set of symptoms following a movement event in which the head is thrown into hyperextension and then quickly forward into flexion. In addition to a car accident, it can be seen after a sports injury or trauma. Whiplash can lead to a number of diagnoses from strain to a herniated disc or even a fracture. It can damage joints or discs, which can in many cases irritate spinal nerve roots. Whiplash symptoms can take a few days to appear and may include pain, weakness, numbness, tingling, stiffness, and dizziness.
In the acute stages of whiplash, chiropractic treatment usually consists of physiotherapy modalities such as electrical stimulation and ultrasound to decrease inflammation. Gentle stretching of the neck muscles and massage would also be incorporated. Once inflammation has subsided, gentle adjustments of the neck and upper back would be performed to restore normal motion of the joints. At home, icing the neck muscles in the acute stage will help decrease inflammation and pain. In the sub-acute stage, heat can be applied to the neck. In addition, you can move the neck through its ranges of motion to help decrease stiffness. You should avoid any positions which increase neck pain.
Herniated Disc: There is an inter-vertebral disc between each vertebra of the spine and these discs act as shock absorbers, distributors, and provide flexibility. A herniated disc occurs when the jelly-like substance (nucleus pulposus) that is normally contained on the inside of the inter-vertebral disc escapes. Herniated discs can be caused by too much stress on the disc, being overweight, repetitive movements and injury. A herniated disc doesn’t always cause pain but can when they jelly leaks out and pinches or presses on the nerve. Symptoms are often nerve-related and can include weakness, numbness, burning sensation, sharp radiating pain down the nerve pathway.
Diagnosis of a herniated disc can be made through a neurological examination and further confirmed with an MRI. If the cause of your neck pain is indeed a herniated disc, there are several treatment options available. Manual cervical traction is my choice of treatment as it takes pressure off the nerve by gently moving the vertebrae. Assisted stretching and rehabilitative neck exercises that strengthen the neck muscles are incorporated as part of treatment. Patients are instructed on a home stretching program and often encouraged to purchase home cervical traction units to utilize in between visits.
Poor Posture: Improper or poor posture can be the cause of your neck pain. The increase use of handheld devices and jobs which require many to be in front of a computer, stress, obesity, pregnancy and weak muscles can contribute to poor posture and thus predispose you to injury and pain.
Rounded, hunched shoulders, forward head, rounded back, tight and achy muscles are all indicators of poor posture. One of the first things you can do to correct your posture and help alleviate pain is awareness. Being aware of your body and how you’re sitting, standing, laying can help correct your posture. In our office chiropractic adjustments combined with stretching of the tight muscles and strengthening of the weak muscles is the course of treatment. Educating the patient on proper posture and giving lifestyle modifications in addition to a regular exercise program are prescribed.
Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a joint disorder that occurs when the disc that cushions the joint wears down and is unable to absorb shock. This causes progressive deterioration of cartilage and the bones begin to rub. The body, in turn, reacts by forming bone spurs that affect joint motion. This can be due to age, genetic predisposition, injury, and overuse.
A decrease in neck range of motion and stiffness are some of the cardinal signs of osteoarthritis. For many pain will also be present due to a decrease in joint mobility which affects the muscles. Like all other conditions mentioned above, chiropractic adjustments are indicated as they help restore normal joint function and help prevent the progression of arthritis. At home, patients are often educated on nutrition and lifestyle modifications which can help decrease pain. Heat can be beneficial for patients as it warms up the muscles and usually allows for an increase in mobility. Stretching the muscles of the neck and shoulders is also recommended and prescribed.
If you’re currently experiencing neck pain, don’t let it linger on. Call our office or if you have a chiropractor, make an appointment to get evaluated and put an end to your neck pain.