Treating and Preventing Neck Pain
Neck pain is a common experience among adults, and one of the reasons people are most likely to seek care from a chiropractic office. Although chiropractic is often thought of as a field devoted to back pain, the neck is part of the spinal column, and maintaining its comfort and function is necessary for the health of the rest of the body. Being a complex structure, there are many ways in which things can go wrong in the neck, but many ailments can be treated through means that don’t rely on drugs or surgery. There are also some ways in which people can reduce their risk of incurring long-term neck pain, which we want all our patients to be aware of.
The Structure of the Neck
There are seven vertebrae in the spine’s cervical region that make up the neck bones. All but the top two are separated by discs consisting of a gelatinous nucleus and a rubbery outer ring. Nerves leading to the shoulders and down into the arms emerge from canals in the neck vertebrae, which is why swelling in this area can cause nerve dysfunction in the upper limbs. Muscles called the levator scapulae connect the top vertebrae to the shoulders, and muscles called suboccipitals connect the upper vertebrae to the base of the skull. There are also muscles in the neck that connect vertebrae to each other and run from the skull to the mid-back and shoulders. Pain in these muscles can be referred along their length, and tightness in them can cause strain in the muscles that balance them.
As with vertebrae further down, the cervical vertebrae are connected to each other by facet joints in their rear. These joints are cushioned by cartilage and lubricated by fluid produced by synovial tissue.
Injuries and Diseases
When a person’s head is rapidly swung forward and then back, as commonly happens during car crashes, they are likely to immediately feel pain. It is a good idea to seek emergency care after this sort of event, or when neck pain is accompanied by fever, difficulty balancing, or loss of bladder or bowel control. However, symptoms resulting from acute injuries can be delayed, and an emergency room may refer a patient for complementary care in a chiropractic office once their problem has been identified and stabilized.
Often, neck pain is chronic (lasting more than three months) or recurring due to gradual breakdown in the neck’s tissues. Spinal discs gradually lose fluid over the course of a person’s life, and by the time they are in their sixties, the discs have become less effective shock absorbers and can more easily become herniated. Wear to cartilage or synovial membranes can prompt inflammation, and if the vertebrae are being stressed, they may develop bony spurs which would put more pressure on nearby soft tissues. Treatment will be more effective if this is caught early.
How Chiropractors Help
Chiropractic offices utilize several pain relief techniques, including spinal adjustments to mobilize dislocated tissues back into place. This will often remove impingements on nerves and muscles, allowing them to rebuild with less discomfort to the patient. Chiropractors also commonly prescribe therapeutic exercises and use non-drug anti-inflammatory treatments, such as therapeutic massages, low-level laser, and electric muscle stimulation. To prevent relapses, many chiropractors also offer lifestyle advice to prevent unnecessary strain on the neck. This can include postural corrections, better workout warm-ups, and cooldowns, and advice on home office redesign to reduce harm from poor typing posture. Many offices can also help patients acquire more supportive or specialized pillows if their sleep or driving habits are straining their necks.