Neck pain affects an estimated two-thirds of adults at some point in their lives and is second only to lower back pain as a reason for seeking chiropractic treatment. The neck, or the cervical spine, is made up of 7 small vertebrae that support the entire weight of your head—around 12 pounds. It’s like carrying a bowling ball. The bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and nerves of the neck all work together, allowing your head to move freely in just about every direction. This flexibility makes the neck more susceptible to injury and damage, so it may not be surprising to hear that neck pain is the fourth largest reason for disability around the world.
Causes of Neck (Cervical) Pain
Neck pain can have a variety of causes. Among them:
Sprain and strains — Overuse of neck muscles and ligaments during daily activities can cause neck pain and stiffness. For example, posture-related neck problems are common among those who look at a computer monitor all day since looking at a screen can keep the neck in an awkward position. Even worse than “tech neck” is “text neck”, caused by an excessive amount of time keeping the head forward and down while looking at a smartphone. This new reason for neck pain is being seen among younger people who would not yet ordinarily have experienced neck pain.
Injury — One common neck injury, whiplash, results when the head is suddenly thrown in one direction and whips back in the opposite direction, as often happens in car accidents. Whiplash can cause injury to the joints, discs, ligaments, muscles and nerves.
Degenerative conditions — Wear and tear can lead to changes in the vertebrae and discs over time. As we age, discs become dried out (desiccated) and shrink, providing less cushion between vertebrae. The cervical spinal canal can narrow (called cervical spinal canal stenosis), putting pressure on the spinal cord. When there are arthritic changes (degeneration) in the neck, cartilage can deteriorate and bone spurs can form, increasing joint inflammation. This may affect joint motion or pinch the nerve root.
Bulging or herniated disc — if a disc bulges outward because of injury or degeneration, it can put pressure on nerve roots and produce inflammation. This can result in neck pain, numbness and tingling, which may radiate down the shoulder, arm or hand.
If your neck pain is accompanied by a fever, vomiting, unexplained weight loss, or loss of bladder or bowel control, seek the care of a physician immediately.
What to Expect at Your First Chiropractic Visit
Chiropractors look at the body as a whole rather than as a collection of individual or separate components, so even when you come in for neck pain, we will look at your entire spine since other areas besides your neck may be affected. During your initial evaluation, we will typically take your health history, assess range of motion, check for tenderness, feel for areas of tightness, examine your posture, check the alignment of your spine and, if necessary, take x-rays or recommend an MRI. It’s important to determine the reason for your neck pain before deciding on a course of treatment. Only after a comprehensive evaluation will a treatment plan will be created for you.
Treatment of Neck Pain
Treatment for neck pain may involve a variety of techniques, based on your diagnosis and whether your neck pain is acute or chronic (lasting longer than 3 months) and whether it is localized or radiating. Treatment may include:
- Gentle spinal manipulation administered by hand or with a specialized instrument
- Soft tissue therapy using specialized instruments or via therapeutic massage
- Exercises, stretching and resistance techniques to improve range of motion and help reduce pain
- Electrical stimulation, which uses a low-frequency electrical current to stimulate neck muscles
- Therapeutic ultrasound to relieve muscle pain and stiffness through sound waves
- Heat packs to increase blood flow to the affected areas
- Cold laser therapy, which may bring anti-inflammatory substances to the affected site
Chiropractic care focuses on treating the whole person, so we may also talk to you about nutrition, stress management and lifestyle changes to help aid in the healing process and overall health.
Why Seek Chiropractic Care for Neck Pain
Research supports chiropractic as a viable treatment option for many people who suffer from neck pain. Here is some of the evidence:
- A review of 41 research studies concluded that spinal manipulation used in combination with other treatments including exercise and mobilization is effective in treating chronic neck pain.
- In a study of 183 patients published in the British Medical Journal, manual chiropractic therapy was found to be “less costly and more effective than physiotherapy or general practitioner care” for treating neck pain.
Chiropractic care is sought after by many patients who want to avoid the use of potentially dangerous pain medication or surgery. Chiropractic focuses on treating the source of the pain rather than just trying to alleviate the symptoms—and it has been shown to improve pain, restore mobility and relieve related symptoms for many people who suffer from neck pain.