Neck Pain is Common
Chances are, you've experienced a stiff or sore neck at one time or another. Given the complex mechanics and function of the neck, it's no wonder that neck pain is so common.
The neck supports your head, which may weigh 10 pound or more, and needs to bend up and down and turn side to side. Imagine trying to balance a bowling ball on a stick. To make it more difficult, tilt the stick forward while trying to maintain balance of the bowling ball. That's what it's like trying to support your head on your neck it if loses its natural curve.
The Cervical Spine
The spine is made of bones called vertebrae. The seven vertebrae in the neck, number C-1 to C-7, make up the cervical spine. Vertebrae protect the spinal cord, the major neural pathway from the brain to the rest of the body. Between the vertebrae is a built in shock absorber called a curve or lordosis, discs that cushion the vertebrae as the spine bends and flexes. When your neck loses its curve, the ligaments supporting your neck become stretched and lose their ability to maintain the curve.
Problems with the neck
A sudden injury suck as a fall or a car accident may cause damage to the neck. Often, though, damage occurs slowly over time from poor posture, wear and tear, and even emotional stress. Another cause is spinal imbalance or loss of your normal cervical curve, which occurs when the head is not balanced over the rest of the spine. Muscles supporting the unbalanced weight of the head quickly become fatigued. Spinal imbalances can be both a symptom and a cause of stress on your neck.
Injuries and imbalances can cause cervical vertebrae to move out of their correct position. Soft tissues (such as tendons, ligaments, and muscles) can become inflamed or worn out. The discs separating and cushioning the cervical vertebrae can herniate (bulge), or even rupture (burst). Nerves can be damaged or irritated from misaligned cervical vertebrae or bulging or ruptured discs.
Once you neck has lost its normal curve, your neck and shoulder muscles attempt to hold your head in the proper position. Unless you decide to let your head drop into your lap, your neck muscles will have to continue holding up your head long after becoming fatigued. That's precisely when muscle spasms occur, and tightness begins in your neck and shoulders.
A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine compared three modes of treatment to determine which was the most effective in improving mobility and reducing neck pain. One hundred eighty three patients between the ages of 18 to 70, who had reported complaints of neck pain for a minimum two-week period, participated in the study.
Group on received continued routine care by a medical doctor and were ordered to take pain medication and rest, group two received chiropractic adjustments, and group three underwent physical therapy and a supervised exercise routine.
After seven weeks of treatment, 68.3% of patients who received adjustments reported they they were either “completely recovered,” or had significantly improved as a result of treatment – compared with only 50.8% of the physical therapy group, and 35.9% of patients under a medical physician's care.
Symptoms of neck problems
Problems with the neck can lead to symptoms of pain and reduced range of motion. Neck problems can also lead to pain in the:
Unrelated conditions can be due to neck problems:
difficulties with concentration or memory
ringing in the ears
The chiropractic approach to treating neck pain doesn't just treat the symptoms. The goal is to find the source of the problem and correct it.
Chiropractic care for your neck
Standard medical treatments for neck pain include muscle relaxants, painkillers, and tranquilizers. These medications only mask pain; they do nothing for the underlying cause. If these medications don't give relief, then more drastic measure such as cortisone injections or surgery may be tried. In many cases, chiropractic treatment can help ease pressure on nerves and prevent the need for surgery.
The chiropractic approach to treating neck pain is to find the source of the neck pain and correct it. By correcting the source of the problem, the body can heal naturally. Neck pain often responds dramatically to the restoration of normal spinal function through chiropractic care.
The chiropractor's primary tool in treating spinal malfunction is the use of adjustments (spinal manipulation). Applying precisely directed force to a spinal joint that is out of position or not moving properly helps gradually restore it to a more normal position and function.
We may recommend therapies to compliment your adjustments. These include exercises to strengthen and retrain neck muscles, hot or cold compresses, or massage. Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthier diet or reducing stress, may also be suggested.
Bronfort G, Assendelft WJ, Evans R, Haas M, Bouter L. Efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic headache: a systematic review. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2001 Sep; 24(7): 457-66/
Annuals of Internal Medicine, May 21, 2002, vol. 136, No. 10.