Causes of Neck Pain Your Chiropractor Can Help With
The neck is a critical part of the body, and much more complicated than it may first appear. It is made up of seven bones, called cervical vertebrae, as well as more than twenty muscles that must support the weight of the head. Not only do the nerves that travel to the shoulders and into the arms emerge from the spinal cord in the neck, but so do the occipital nerves, which travel upward to the back of the head and scalp. Being such an important area for the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems, the neck also gets a lot of attention from chiropractors. This month, we’re going to explore some of the most common causes of neck pain for which people come into chiropractic offices and what you can expect a chiropractor to do to relieve your pain and solve its cause.
Principles of Chiropractic
Chiropractors are doctors who provide conservative care. We believe that the body is best able to heal itself when messages are able to travel along the nervous system without disruption and when the soft tissues do not have to overcompensate for weakness or tightness in each other. Although chiropractors cannot treat every problem that could potentially arise in the neck, we can treat many of the most common causes of pain, numbness, tingling, or fatigue, and can do so in a manner that does not depend on drugs or surgery and which sets a patient up to maintain good health and a pain-free life on their own.
Because each part of the body is connected, symptoms in the neck do not always originate from problems there, and issues in the neck may be felt somewhere else. Some of the best examples of these are how tightness in the muscles in the upper back can pull on the neck, and how impingement of nerve roots can cause shocks that travel along the nerve to the shoulder or top of the head.
The spinal discs are natural shock absorbers. They are located in between the bodies of vertebrae that are not fused together, with the exception of the atlas and axis vertebrae, which are the top two in the neck. They are made up of a gelatinous center surrounded by fibrous rings. As a person ages, the discs lose fluid, reducing their effectiveness as shock absorbers and making them more vulnerable to acute injuries. When discs are failing, their inner material may bulge out, compressing nearby nerve roots or other soft tissues.
Your chiropractor may treat a disc problem by performing adjustments on your neck to relieve pressure on it and give the leaking fluid a chance to return to its proper place. Many offices also use mechanical spinal decompression according to the same principle. This would be done over several visits.
Osteoarthritis is the gradual breakdown of cartilage, a material that cushions and lubricates joints. Inflammation caused by the breakdown may prompt the creation of bone spurs, which may grind on each other or push against the surrounding muscles. Chiropractic adjustments can be used to realign the joints of the cervical vertebrae to stop them from improperly rubbing on each other. A chiropractor may also use soft tissue manipulation to stretch overly tight muscles and teach a patient exercises to keep them strong and flexible.
Whiplash is an injury caused by rapid acceleration and deceleration, causing the head to whip back and forth. It may cause microtears in the neck’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and discs. Besides radiating pain and fatigue, this can also cause dizziness.
A chiropractor may want to take imaging tests before beginning treatment, such as x-rays for bone and joint problems, or to order a CAT scan or MRI for soft tissues. If the injuries can be treated conservatively, solutions may include adjustments to the joints and physical modalities to accelerate the healing of soft tissues and break up scar tissue, including electric muscle stimulation, therapeutic massage, therapeutic ultrasound, and possibly others. These treatments would also reduce inflammation and allow the patient to regain their full range of motion without locking or weakness.