Your neck, also called your cervical spine, starts at the base of the skull and contains seven vertebrae. Incredibly, the cervical spine supports the full weight of your head, which averages about 10 -12 pounds. While your cervical spine can move your head in nearly every direction, it’s this very flexibility which makes your neck susceptible to pain and injury.
The neck’s susceptibility to injury is due in part to biomechanics. The repeated stresses and traumas that affect cervical biomechanics include extended sitting, repetitive movement, accidents, falls and blows to the body or head, normal aging, and wear and tear. Neck pain can be very annoying, and can come from various causes.
Neck pain commonly results from subluxation of the cervical and upper thoracic spine (neck and upper back). If the vertebrae become restricted or misaligned muscle tension can result and this can be painful. Muscles aren’t the only potential source of pain.
Neck pain can result from many different causes, some obvious, some less so. It can come about due to a build-up of differing stresses and strains over time. Sometimes years can elapse between cause and effect. That fall out of a tree you had when you were young, the time you went over the handlebars, the rugby scrum collapsing on you… they can all accumulate to give rise to symptoms much later. Chiropractic aims to correct the underlying problem.
More specific causes include:
Injury and Accidents:
A sudden forced movement of the head or neck in any direction and the resulting “rebound” in the opposite direction is known as whiplash. The sudden excessive movement injures the tissues of the neck and head. Muscles tighten and contract, create muscle fatigue, resulting in pain and stiffness. Severe whiplash can also cause injury to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, muscles, and nerve roots. Car accidents are obviously the most common cause of whiplash.
Degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease can affect the spine.
Osteoarthritis, a common joint disorder, causes progressive deterioration of cartilage. The body reacts by forming bone spurs that affect joint motion.
Degenerative disc disease reduces the elasticity and height of intervertebral discs. Given time, a disc can bulge or herniate, causing pins and needles, numbness, and arm pain.
This is brachial neuralgia, when there is irritation of the nerves down into the arm (akin to sciatica in the leg). A lot of key information can be gleaned by determining exactly which parts of the hand/arm are painful, numb, tingling etc and which reflexes may be affected and if any specific muscles are weak.
Neck problems are often aggravated by daily stresses such as poor posture, especially in later life. A great number of the people we see have limited rotation, for example, in their neck when they first come in. A common feature in their recovery is often an increased range of motion, making it easier for them to reverse their car (many times the way they first notice the change).
A neck adjustment (also known as a cervical manipulation) is a precise procedure applied to the joints of the neck, usually by hand. A neck adjustment works to improve the mobility of the spine and to restore range of motion; it can also increase movement of the adjoining muscles. Patients typically notice an improved ability to turn and tilt the head, and a reduction of pain, soreness, and stiffness.
Of course, your chiropractor will develop a program of care that may combine more than one type of treatment, depending on your personal needs. In addition to manipulation, the treatment plan may include mobilization, massage or rehabilitative exercises, or something else.
Research Supporting Chiropractic Care
One of the most recent reviews of scientific literature found evidence that patients with chronic neck pain enrolled in clinical trials reported significant improvement following chiropractic spinal manipulation.
As part of the literature review, published in the March/April 2007 issue of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, the researchers reviewed nine previously published trials and found “high-quality evidence” that patients with chronic neck pain showed significant pain-level improvements following spinal manipulation. No trial group was reported as having remained unchanged, and all groups showed positive changes up to 12 weeks post-treatment.