In anatomical terms the neck is referred to as the cervical spine and it is perhaps the most important and delicate area of the spinal column.
The neck consists of seven individual vertebrae that differ in shape and size. The primary role of the cervical spine is to provide flexibility and movement, surround and protect the brain-stem, spinal cord, nerves and blood vessels as well as the important task of bearing the weight of the head.
Neck pain is an extremely common problem in society and there are a variety of sources that may contribute to or cause neck pain. Some of these identified causes include whiplash, poor posture - including abnormal sleeping posture, muscular strain, ligament and tendon injury, joint sprain, inflammation, spinal misalignment, disc injury or degenerative disc disease, infection, or arthritis.
While some cases of neck pain originate from acute injury or trauma, such as whiplash or a sporting bump or knock, and others from organic conditions, just as with low back pain, the most common cause of neck pain is the result of functional pathology or dysfunction in the cervical spine which develops over time. This can be evidenced by restricted joint movement, muscle stiffness, muscle weakness, or nerve entrapment. This loss of function happens so gradually that many people are unaware of their reduced ability to turn their head, or flex their neck, or grip a jar, until their painful symptoms get their attention.
The accumulation of stress to the joints and muscles is often the result of months or years of poor posture, static working positions, lack of fitness and flexibility, and poor sleeping habits. Any of these factors on their own or in combination may lead to abnormal function in the spinal joints, which chiropractors call subluxation. Failure to address and restore this loss of function means that any pain relief - particularly pharmaceutical pain relief - will be temporary and this ultimately reinforces the chronic pain cycle.
Neck pain can feel like any of the following:
- Stiff neck that makes turning the head difficult
- Sharp or stabbing pain in one spot
- Soreness or tenderness in a general area
- Pain that radiates down into the arms or fingers or radiates up into the head - see Headaches and Migraines
In some cases, other symptoms associated with the neck pain are even more problematic, such as:
- Tingling, numbness, or weakness that radiates into the shoulder, arms, or fingers
- Trouble with gripping or lifting objects
- Problems with walking, balance, or coordination
Neck pain might be minor and easily ignored, or it can be excruciating to the point where it interferes with important daily activities, such as sleep. The pain might be short-lived, come and go, or become constant. While not common, some neck pain can also be a signal of a serious underlying medical issue, such as meningitis, or cancer.
Individuals seek neck pain treatment with Chiropractors and other musculo-skeletal professionals on a daily basis. Besides lower back pain, there is no doubt that it is the most frequent clinical presentation that we see in practice.
At Chiropractic Solutions our chiropractors will perform a comprehensive history and examination to identify the cause of your pain and will then explain the treatment recommended to restore and maintain optimal cervical spine function.
Treatment for Neck Pain
While Chiropractors are experts in adjusting the spine, there are numerous techniques that we may also use to treat neck pain when it is appropriate to do so. Every body is different, therefore a technique that is suitable for one person may not suit someone else. Specific techniques that may be used to manage your neck pain include:
Chiropractic Spinal manipulation is the most commonly used therapeutic tool for Chiropractors. This technique involves ‘adjusting’ the joints of the spine or extremities to restore normal movement and nervous system function. Chiropractic Spinal manipulation results in improved flexibility, reduced pain, restoration of joint alignment and muscle relaxation. There are certain cases when spinal manipulation should not be used including suspected bone fracture, spinal instability, hyper-mobility and progressed degenerative disease.
Cervical spine mobilisation is a gentle, non-cavitating (“popping”) version of spinal manipulation. This technique is suitable for those with extremely acute and severe neck pain and involves the doctor gently stretching and opening the joints of the neck to improve movement. Cervical mobilisation is particularly suitable for individuals who prefer a more gentle type of treatment
Cervical traction therapy may be helpful for cases of neck pain that are a result of disc injury or abnormal neck curvature. Traction therapy involves applying an upward force upon the neck to open joints and reduce disc and nerve pressure.
Cervical drop-piece technique is a gentle therapy that utilises a mechanical chiropractic table in which individual segments of the table drop down as the practitioner presses down on the patient's spine. It is commonly used as a gentle alternative to a manual manipulation technique.
Adjustments using an 'Activator adjusting instrument'. a High Velocity Low Amplitude ( HVLA ) method of adjusting, allowing a very specific and measured thrust adjustment. A particularly gentle adjusting technique. Use of the Activator Adjusting Instrument is incorporated with our other techniques within most consultations. See What is an Activator?
Trigger Point Therapy - locating and working on the tight muscles and ligaments around the front and back of the neck and jaw.
What does the research say?
Cervical spine manipulation and stretching techniques resulted in comparable improvements in neck pain symptoms highlighting their benefits as a viable neck pain treatment option. Hurwitz, E et al (2002). A randomized trial of Chiropractic Manipulation and Mobilisation for patients with neck pain: Clinical outcomes from the UCLA neck-pain study. American Journal of Public Health, 92(10); 1634 – 1641
Chronic neck pain sufferers demonstrated greater outcomes following a combination of spinal manipulation and strengthening based exercises compared to spinal manipulation alone. Bronfort, G et al (2001). A randomized clinical trial of exercise and spinal manipulation for patients with chronic neck pain. Spine, 26(7); 788 – 797
Statistically significant improvements were noted in overall pain and disability following Chiropractic neck pain treatment. McMorland, G et al (2000).Chiropractic management of mechanical neck and low back pain: A retrospective, outcome based analysis. Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, 23(5); 307 – 311