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 pounds or more, and needs to bend up and down and turn side to side. According to Renee Calliet, M.D. if the head weighs 10 lbs. and the center of the ear sits directly over the center of the shoulder, the load on the spine and its tissue is only 10 lbs. However, if the head is translated forward, its weight will increase by 10lbs. for every inch forward it is. In effect, if the center of the ear is 3 inches forward for the center of the shoulders, the weight of the head on the spine and its discs, joints and nerves is 30 lbs.(1)
Major neck pain or recurring pain is a definite sign that something serious is wrong. Even minor neck stiffness can be a signal that something is wrong inside your spine and you should seek a professional evaluation from a specialist, such as a chiropractic physician.
The Cervical Spine
The spine in the neck area is made up of seven bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae protect the spinal cord and nerve roots that exit from the spinal cord. Between the vertebrae are pads of tissue called discs that help cusion the vertebrae as the spine flexes and bends. A sudden injury such as a fall or a car accident may cause damage and pain in the neck. Often though, damage occurs slowly and silently over time from poor posture, wear and tear, lack of normal spinal position and movement even constant emotional stress from work or relationships.
Injuries and imbalances can cause cervical vertebrae to move out of their normal position or become restricted. Soft tissues (such as tendons, ligaments and muscles) can become inflamed, worn out and fatigued. The discs separating and cushioning the cervical vertebrae can begin to decay and lead to disc bulges or ruptures (herniation). Nerves can become pinched or irritated, with as little pressure as the weight of a dime, from misaligned spinal areas or bulging discs. Finally, the neck changes as we age. Arthritic changes in the spinal bones such as spurs (abnormal bony growths), disc degeneration, and muscle or ligament deterioration may change the normal, healthy curve of the neck and cause irritation to the nerves in the spine.
Symptoms of neck problems
Problems with the neck can lead to symptoms of pain and reduced range of motion (normal rotation should allow the chin to be nearly parallel with your shoulder). Neck problems can also lead to pain in the shoulder, arm, wrist, hands, or fingers. And even seemingly unrelated conditions can be due to neck problems: headaches, sinus congestion and pain, ringing in the ears(tinnitus), and vision disturbances have all been associated with neck dysfunction.
Care for your Neck
Many people seek the standard medical treatments for neck pain such as muscle relaxants, pain killers or tranquilizers. These medications only “cover up” the pain; they do nothing for the underlying cause which is why when you stop taking the pills the pain returns or increases. More drastic medical interventions include cortisone injections or surgery. Long term use of medications can lead to unwanted side effects and damage internal organs such as your liver and kidneys. There are over 400,000 deaths each year from inproperly prescribed medications. The chiropractic approach to treating neck pain doesn’t just treat the symptoms. The goal is to find what the underlying cause is and eliminate it. Your doctor of chiropractic will perform a complete history and thorough examination with special attention to the spine and its effect on the nervous system. Doctors of chiropractic are experts in the care of the bones, nerves, muscles and connective tissues that make up about 60% of your body. The conservative chiropractic approach is to find the source of the pain which most often is dysfunction (subluxation) in the vertebrae and correct it allowing the body to heal naturally. Once the dysfunction is corrected the spine moves normally and most importantly the spinal nerves are no longer irritated or pinched allowing proper nerve flow to the different body areas. Many research studies have proven chiropractic medicine to be more effective and safer the other forms of traditional care. One study, published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that patients who received chiropractic care reported significant improvement in their neck function and a reduction in their neck pain whereas those taking pain-killers did not.
1. Calliet R. Soft tissue pain and disability. Philadelphia: FA Davis Co., 1977
About the author:
Dr. Brian Broskoskie is a chiropractor at Results Chiropractic Center in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He is a graduate of Sherman College. Follow him on Twitter and be sure to LIKE his Facebook Fan page for daily health, exercise, nutrition, wellness, chiropractic tips and much much more!