Neck pain is extemely common (after low back pain) and many of you will have suffered with neck pain, be it after sleeping, sitting in a draught, working at the computer for long periods, gardening or after trauma such as a whiplash.
You may find that you are unable to turn to look over your shoulder when reversing the car.
Most of you will live with this neck stiffness and pain, considering it to be the normal condition, when in the majority of cases it is completely treatable and preventable.
What is Neck Pain?
Neck pain is pain that can occur anywhere in your neck, from the base of your skull to the top of your shoulders extending even to your upper back and arms.
The neck is a delicate structure, has a great deal of functionality but it is also subjected to a lot of stress. The neck supports the weight of the head and protects the nerves that carry sensory and motor information from the brain to the rest of the body. The neck is highly flexible and allows the head to turn and flex in all directions.
The neck anatomy is very complex, but simply put: There are seven vertebrae that are the bony building blocks of the spine in the neck (cervical vertebrae) that surround the spinal cord and canal. Between these vertebrae are cartilaginous discs and nearby pass the nerves of the neck. The vertebrae have joints which allow movement, are held together by ligaments and there are numerous muscles attaching to the vertebrae via tendons at the front, side and back of the neck. At the front of the neck we can feel the Adam’s apple which is the thyroid cartilage and makes up the larynx which houses the voice box. Within the neck we also have arteries, veins, lymph glands, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, oesophagus and trachea.
Neck pain ranges from mild to severe depending on the amount of injury, and can be acute or chronic.
Acute neck pain occurs suddenly and usually heals within several days to weeks. Most episodes of acute neck pain are due to a muscle strain or other soft tissue sprain (ligaments, tendons). This type of injury can be caused by a sudden force (such as whiplash) resulting from a car accident, or from straining the neck (such as a stiff neck) caused by, for example, sleeping in the wrong position or carrying a heavy suitcase).
The source of pain is usually in the muscles and ligaments, joints, or discs.
Chronic neck pain persists for more than 3 months; it may be felt all the time or worsen with certain activities. Although its source may be hard to determine, contributing factors include nerve damage, tissue scarring, arthritis, or emotional effects of pain. People with chronic symptoms may be referred to a pain specialist.
Neck pain can be acute as a result of muscle strain or other soft tissue injury as a result of trauma or straining the neck, or chronic which has developed over the years due to poor posture, incorrect use and the aging process.
You may experience one or a combination of the following:
- Dull aching
- Pain that worsens with movement
- Neck stiffness or tenderness
- Catching or pinching sensation with movement
- Numbness, tingling or weakness in your arm or hand
- Sharp shooting pains
- Pain that spreads to your shoulders, upper back and arms
- Accompanying headaches
- With chronic pain you may be easily tired, depressed or anxious
- Neck pain may be accompanied with upper back and /or lower back pain
You should see a doctor if your neck pain follows a serious injury and/or is accompanied by the following:
- Headaches, fever, or weight loss
- Pain that worsens at night
- Difficulty walking, clumsiness, or weakness
- Pain, numbness, or tingling in your fingers, arms, or legs
- Problems with bladder, bowel, or sexual function
- Discomfort or pressure in your chest
- Severe pain over a bone that might indicate a fracture or injury to a ligament
Neck pain is extremely common and is known to be a multifactorial disease as there are many risk factors contributing to the development and progression of neck pain.
Most neck pain is caused by muscle strain, ligament strain, muscle spasm or inflammation of the neck joints and surrounding soft tissues. This is usually caused by activities that involve repeated or prolonged movements in the neck such as :
- holding your head in a forward or odd position for long periods while working, reading, watching TV or talking on the telephone
- sleeping on the incorrect pillow size or on your stomach with your neck twisted or bent
- work that uses the upper body and arms, such as painting a ceiling
- doing exercise that uses the upper body and arms
- carrying a heavy object such as a suitcase on one side of your body
Other causes are:
- Arthritic pain, wear and tear, spondylosis – like all joints in the body, your neck joints and discs undergo wear and tear, the extent of degeneration depends on many factors such as age, posture, previous injuries, hobbies, diet and lifestyle
- Nerve compression – this can cause you pain in the arm and can be from a herniated cervical disc, foraminal stenosis pinching the nerve or brachial plexus irritation from hypertonic muscles in the neck
- Injuries from tripping or falling a short distance
- Whiplash from a car accident
- Sports related accidents / direct blows to the face, back or top of the head
- Psychological problems such as stress, distress and anxiety
- Compensation by the body from a previous injury lower in the body such as the low back and pelvis
Here at Shefford Osteopathic Clinic, we treat a lot of neck pain and it is a common condition that can also cause headaches, muscle spasms and pain in the shoulders or arms.
The neck is a delicate and complex area which we are trained to assess and treat. We will take your medical history and a detailed physical and postural examination which will enable us to assess whether the symptoms are musculoskeletal in origin and if osteopathy is likely to help.
The osteopathic examination involves assessing posture and determining whether the load placed through the joints in the neck is too great. Osteopaths have a finely developed sense of palpation that enables them to assess the tiny movements within the individual facet joints of the neck. The neck is connected to upper back (thoracic spine) and many of the muscles which control neck and head movement start on your upper back or chest. Don’t be surprised if we look at your whole spine, and this is due to the fact that your head is balanced on your spine, so if your low back is not working correctly it will affect your neck.
Treatment usually involves combining different osteopathic techniques such as soft tissue massage, articulation, mobilisation and gentle re-balancing techniques that decrease the mechanical strain placed on the joints and soft tissues. This allows us to treat a wide range of ages, from babies and children to the elderly.
Most people with acute neck pain respond rapidly to treatment. A positive attitude, regular activity, and a prompt return to work are all very important elements of recovery. If regular job duties cannot be performed initially, modified (light or restricted) duty may be prescribed for a limited time. Prevention is key to avoiding recurrence:
- Proper lifting techniques
- Good posture during sitting, standing, moving, and sleeping
- Regular exercise with stretching and strengthening
- An ergonomic work area
- Good nutrition, healthy weight, lean body mass
- Stress management and relaxation techniques
- No smoking
If the osteopath has concerns that there may be an underlying condition which is not suitable for osteopathic treatment you will be asked to return to your GP for their advice and appropriate investigations.
What To Do Now …
If you’ve come to this website looking for help with your neck pain, then don’t in silence suffer any longer.
Contact us immediately on 01462 811006 for a consultation and let’s assess your condition.
At the assessment, we’ll take some details from you and build your case history. We’ll discuss why you’ve come to see us and where you have any aches and pains. Then we’ll examine you with the aim of giving you the appropriate treatment for your neck pain.
This will take a little while to complete, but it’s a necessary part of the ethical guidelines we work to. The guidelines are there to make sure everything is done professionally and to a high standard of patient care. I’m sure you agree that’s a good thing!
If you have any questions about what we do and how we do it, call us and we’ll be happy to help.