Neck pain is a common complaint that can have serious effects, both long and short term, on health and well-being. The causes of neck pain are varied, as are the symptoms, and this is why the personalised treatment offered by chiropractic proves effective for large numbers of neck pain sufferers.
Neck pain affects large numbers of the community and is one of the main ailments afflicting patients that seek advice and treatment from a chiropractor (second only to lower back pain). Part of the reason for the neck’s susceptibility to injury is its flexibility and the work that it’s required to do in supporting the weight of the head. In addition, the neck is especially vulnerable to traumatic injury, is adversely affected by poor posture and the performing of repetitive tasks, and is particularly prone to deterioration as part of the ageing process.
The Causes of Neck Pain
Injuries and accidents are a common cause of neck pain, whether these be car accidents, sporting injuries, or pain to the the neck caused by other sorts of trauma. Whiplash is one of the most common types of neck injury, caused when the head and neck are suddenly and violently forced in one direction, and then rebound backwards. This can create muscle damage resulting in a severe lack of mobility and pain in the neck, and can also damage its joints, ligaments and discs. Sporting injuries too can take their toll on the neck, usually through heavy or violent collisions in contact sports.
Much of what we do in daily life can also lead to ongoing or acute neck problems. Poor posture (caused through muscle imbalance or bad habits), being overweight, the performing of repetitive tasks (RSI), or sitting for long hours in the office and not taking enough exercise, can all be contributory causes of neck pain as they can cause damage to the muscles, joints, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels. Stress and tension can also be contributing factors, as this can create stiffness and soreness in the neck, inhibiting movement and causing severe discomfort.
In addition, as we grow older a combination of the stresses associated with wear and tear, as well as degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis, can have an impact on the neck. In such cases, it may be that the cartilage around the joints in the neck has deteriorated and this forms bone spurs which impact on the joint’s effectiveness, or that the elasticity of intervertebral discs has declined, causing them to bulge or herniate. These conditions will generally lead to a feeling of stiffness and reduced mobility in the neck.
How Neck Pain Manifests Itself
The manner in which neck pain can manifest itself may vary according to the type of injury or damage and what the underlying cause was, meaning that one of the most debilitating effects of suffering neck pain is that it can cause associated pain in other limbs and joints, most notably in the shoulders, arms and hands. Neck pain can also lead to headaches and jaw pain, and this is why it can cause patients such distress, as the symptoms are often not just limited to the injured or stressed part of the body.
Very often, problems with the joints in the neck and upper back lead to pain, numbness or tingling in the hands, accompanied by a loss of strength and coordination, or it may present as aches and stiffness in the shoulders and upper arms. This can be a dull, throbbing pain, or shooting sensations through the limbs and extremities. These symptoms can appear suddenly, or develop slowly over a period of time. Neck pain brought about by stress and tension can lead to the muscles contracting tightly, resulting in the loss of the ability to turn or move the neck freely.
In all of these cases, the pain levels caused can be extremely acute, inhibiting a patient’s ability to function, or they may be manageable for short periods of time but over a prolonged timeframe they become chronic and begin to have a deleterious effect on a patient’s quality of life.
How a Chiropractor Approaches Neck Pain
Chiropractic is a non-invasive, drug-free, holistic form of treatment and focusses on restoring the proper functioning relationship between the nervous system and spine, with the body’s bones, organs, joints, tissues and muscles. Chiropractic treatment is premised on the idea that mobility and flexibility can be restored to damaged or deteriorated joints and surrounding tissues and muscles through manipulation or adjustment of the affected area, and is concerned with restoring the proper alignment of the spine so that the body’s nervous system is able to function effectively and without irritation.
Therefore, a chiropractic consultation for neck pain will involve an examination and evaluation of your whole spine, not just the neck. Your chiropractor will also look at your posture and the range of motion you have, to see the ways in which these might be impacting upon you. In addition, your lifestyle, diet and exercise patterns will also be examined so as to determine the ways in which these may have contributed to your condition, as will your medical history. Chiropractic is highly personalised, and so your treatment will take into account all of these factors, as well as the specifics of your complaint.
Chiropractic treatment for neck pain may include manual treatment, which might be a combination of chiropractic adjustments and soft tissue therapy. Chiropractic adjustments involve a gentle, painless directed force being applied to a joint that is experiencing restricted movement in order to help it to regain its normal motion. During a neck adjustment (also known as cervical manipulation), a popping noise might be heard, which is trapped pockets of gas or air being released in the joint, but this is a very gentle process and should not cause any discomfort.
Soft tissue therapy, usually involving chiropractic massage, is used to release tension from the muscles around the affected area so that normal movement and activity is restored. Trigger point therapy is another technique that might be used in addressing neck pain, where the taut bands that develop within muscles and cause pain and discomfort are gently massaged, rectifying the chemical imbalance that created the trigger point and decreasing the tension, which enables the muscle’s normal functions to be resumed.
Chiropractic treatment may also involve rehabilitation exercises designed to help you regain flexibility and return to a flexible, pain-free posture, as well as advice and guidance on how to maintain your proper posture so that further deterioration is avoided.
If you suffer from repeated or chronic neck pain, your chiropractor may also recommend the use of a therapeutic pillow. Therapeutic pillows can provide additional support and comfort for anyone suffering from neck or shoulder pain because they are designed to support your neck and head while you sleep by having one side higher than the other. This means that your spine is aligned more naturally, your posture is better and your overall level of comfort is enhanced.