Conservative Care of Neck Pain
By Angela Kargus
Neck pain is a common complaint of chiropractic patients. The cervical spine serves an important functionit supports the full weight of the head, which weighs on average about 12 pounds, and can move the head in nearly every direction. This flexibility, however, makes the neck very susceptible to pain and injury.
Extended sitting, repetitive movement, accidents, falls and blows to the body or head, normal aging, and everyday wear and tear can all cause neck injuries and discomfort.
Causes of Neck Pain
Injury and Accidents
A sudden forced movement of the head or neck in any direction and the resulting rebound in the opposite direction is known as whiplash. The sudden whipping motion injures the surrounding and supporting tissues of the neck and head. As a result, muscles tighten and contract, creating muscle fatigue, pain and stiffness.
Car accidents are the most common cause of whiplash.
Severe whiplash can also be associated with injury to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, muscles, and nerve roots.
Osteoarthritis, a common joint disorder, causes progressive deterioration of cartilage. The body reacts by forming bone spurs that affect joint motion.
Spinal stenosis causes the narrowing of small nerve passageways in the vertebrae, which compress and trap nerve roots, leading to neck, shoulder, and arm pain, as well as numbness.
Degenerative disc disease can lead to reduced elasticity and height of intervertebral discs. Over time, a disc may bulge or herniate, causing tingling, numbness, and pain that runs into the arm.
Poor posture, obesity and weak abdominal muscles often disrupt spinal balance, causing the neck to bend forward to compensate.
Stress and emotional tension can cause muscles to tighten and contract, resulting in pain and stiffness, which may extend into the upper back and the arms.
After performing exams to locate the source of neck pain and asking questions about the symptoms and remedies you may have already tried, the doctor of chiropractic will do physical and neurological exams.
The physical exam helps the doctor observe the patients posture, range of motion, and physical condition, noting movement that causes pain. The doctor will also feel the cervical spine for muscle spasm and will note the curvature and alignment of the spine.
During the neurological exam, your doctor will test your reflexes, muscle strength, other nerve changes, and pain spread.
In some instances, diagnostic tests may be required. An X-ray can show narrowed disc space, fractures, bone spurs or arthritis. A Computerized Axial Tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) or a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test can show bulging discs and herniations. If nerve damage is suspected, an electromyography (EMG) test will measure how quickly the nerves respond.
A neck adjustment (also known as cervical manipulation) is a precise procedure, usually applied by hand to the joints of the neck.
A neck adjustment works to improve the mobility of the spine and to restore range of motion; it can also increase movement of the adjoining muscles. Patients typically notice an improved ability to turn and tilt the head, and a reduction of pain, soreness and stiffness.
The neck care program may combine more than one type of treatment, depending on your personal needs. In addition to manipulation, the treatment plan may include mobilization, massage or rehabilitative exercises, and other therapies.