Neck Pain Care & Treatments
Dr. Alex Jimenez’s collection of neck pain articles cover an assortment of medical conditions and/or injuries pertaining to pain and other symptoms surrounding the cervical spine. The neck consists of various complex structures; bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and other tissues. When these structures are damaged or injured as a result of improper posture, osteoarthritis, or even whiplash, among other complications, the pain and discomfort individual experiences can be debilitating. Through chiropractic care, Dr. Jimenez explains how the use of manual adjustments to the cervical spine can greatly help relieve the painful symptoms associated with neck issues.
Neck Pain and Chiropractic
The neck, medically referred to as the cervical spine, begins at the base of the skull and is made up of seven small vertebrae. The cervical spine, or neck, is capable of supporting the entire weight of your head, which is approximately 12 pounds. While the neck’s most fundamental function is to move the head in practically every direction, its own flexibility can increase the chances of complications, making the neck very susceptible to damage or injury.
The cervical spine is more susceptible to these types of issues mainly due to its biomechanics. Basic, everyday physical activities such as prolonged sitting and repetitive movements or accidents such as falls and blows to the body or head as well as normal aging, and everyday wear and tear caused by degeneration can affect the complex structures of the cervical spine. Neck pain can cause a good deal of discomfort and it can have a variety of causes. Understanding some of these reasons can help find the proper treatment.
The following are several of the most common causes of neck pain:
- Accidents and Injury: An abrupt movement of the head or neck in any direction, caused by a tremendous force where there’s a resulting rebound in the opposite direction is commonly identified as whiplash. The sudden whipping motion of the head or neck can cause damage or injury to the supporting tissues surrounding the cervical spine. When the body undergoes great force from an accident, the muscles tend to react by tightening and contracting, creating muscle fatigue which can result in pain and stiffness. Severe whiplash can also be associated with injury to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, muscles, and nerve roots. Automobile accidents are the most common cause of whiplash.
- Aging: Degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease directly affect the spine.
- Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder that causes the progressive deterioration of cartilage. As a result, the body reacts by forming bone spurs that can affect the overall motions of the joints and other structures.
- Spinal stenosis is identified as the narrowing of the small nerve passageways found in the vertebrae, causing them to compress and entrap nerve roots. Spinal stenosis may cause symptoms of neck, shoulder, and arm pain, as well as numbness when these nerves are unable to function normally.
- Degenerative disc disease can cause a reduction in the elasticity and height of intervertebral discs. Over time, a disc may bulge or herniate, causing tingling, numbness, and pain that radiates into the arm.
- Daily Life: Poor posture, obesity, and weak abdominal muscles can alter the balance of the spine, causing the neck to bend forward in order to compensate for the changes. Stress and emotional tension can cause muscles to tighten and contract, leading to pain, discomfort and stiffness. Postural stress can contribute to chronic neck pain where symptoms may extend into the upper back and the arms.
Chiropractic Care of Neck Pain
Chiropractic care is one of the most popular forms of alternative treatment utilized by individuals with neck pain. During the first visit to a chiropractor’s office, the healthcare professional will perform various types of exams to find the source of the symptoms as well as make an educated questionnaire about the individual’s current pain and discomfort as well as which remedies they may have already used. For instance:
- When did the pain begin?
- What has the person done for their neck pain?
- Does the pain radiate or travel to other parts of the body?
- Does anything reduce the pain or make it worse?
Additionally, a doctor of chiropractic, or a chiropractor, will also perform physical and neurological exams. In the physical exam, the spine specialist will observe your posture, range of motion, and physical condition, noting which types of movements and/or which other noticeable factors cause pain. Your doctor will feel your spine, note its curvature and alignment, and feel for muscle spasm. Checking the area around the shoulders is also important to determine other issues related to the spine. During the neurological exam, the healthcare professional will test the individual’s reflexes, muscle strength, other nerve changes, and the spread of pain and discomfort.
In some cases, your chiropractor may order additional tests to help diagnose whether an injury or condition is the cause of the symptoms. An X-ray can display narrowed disc space, fractures, bone spurs, or arthritis. A computerized axial tomography scan, also known as a CAT or CT scan, or a magnetic resonance imaging test, also known as an MRI, can display bulging discs and herniations. When the presence of nerve damage is suspected by the manifested symptoms, the doctor of chiropractic may order a special test known as electromyography, also known as an EMG, to measure how quickly your nerves respond to stimuli.
Chiropractors are conservative care doctors because their scope of practice does not include the use of drugs or surgery. If your doctor of chiropractic diagnoses a condition outside of this conservative scope, such as a neck fracture or an indication of an organic disease, they will refer you to the appropriate medical physician or specialist. He or she may also ask for permission to inform your family physician of the care you are receiving to ensure that your chiropractic treatment and medical care are properly regulated.
A chiropractic adjustment, also known as a spinal manipulation, is a precise procedure where a specific amount of force is applied to the joints of the affected area, in this instance the neck, and it’s usually achieved by hand. A spinal adjustment can function to improve the mobility of the spine and restore the individual’s original range of motion while also increasing the movement of the adjoining muscles. Patients generally report an improved ability to turn and tilt their heads and a reduction of pain, soreness, and stiffness.
According to the type of injury or condition diagnosed, your chiropractor will develop an appropriate treatment plan that 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.
What Research Shows
One of the most current scientific literature reviews found evidence that patients with chronic neck pain who enrolled in clinical trials reported considerable improvements following chiropractic adjustments. A research study published in the March/April 2007 issue of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics by researchers reviewed nine previously published trials and found high-quality evidence that patients with chronic neck pain demonstrated considerable pain-level improvements following spinal manipulation. No trial group was reported as having remained unchanged, and all groups showed positive changes up to 12 weeks post-treatment.