Do you suffer aches and pains in your neck? Do you often wake up to a stiff neck with restricted movement? Is it a struggle to turn your head to reverse your car out of the driveway? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions then this article is for you. Don’t Let Your Neck Pain Become Chronic
In a review released this year, it is estimated that approximately 67% of adults will experience neck pain at some stage in their lives. For some of you this may be all too familiar territory. I hope this article can shed some light on the realities of neck pain and explain what is going on when you experience it.
I want you to imagine that you are balancing a bowling ball on a pencil. Please don’t actually do this otherwise my next article will have to be on broken toes. With this imagery in mind imagine the struggles your pencil must be going through to balance and stabilize your heavy bowling ball. Now, tilt your pencil forward, backward and side-side, do you think that your pencil will be able to control the ball with such movements? For those playing at home, our bowling ball to pencil scenario is an illustration of what happens with our head and neck on a daily basis, however our neck is such an amazing structure that our head does not fall off. The bowling ball analogy allows us to begin to appreciate just how special and important our neck is and why we need to treat it well.
Grasping the bowling ball analogy is the first step to appreciating neck pain. To understand what can go wrong with the neck we must take a little journey into the anatomical structures of the neck. Without turning this into an anatomy lecture and putting all readers to sleep I will briefly explain this complex structure in the most simplistic way possible.
The neck or cervical spine is made up of 7 small vertebrae and 6 inter-vertebral discs (similar to the discs found throughout the spine). The main role of the disc is to act as a shock absorber. The vertebrae articulate with each other through these discs and also through facet joints on either side. The vertebrae house our spinal cord, which travels south down the spinal canal giving rise to spinal nerves along the way at each level. Throughout the cervical spine there are also various ligaments connecting the vertebrae and aiding with stability. The last structure I want to mention are the muscles that aid with movement and also assist in stability. We have small muscles that interconnect the vertebrae and also larger muscles that expand the length of the cervical spine.
So, if we can bring our pencil and bowling ball image back to mind we can see that although our pencil (vertebrae) has quite some work to do, we also have ligaments and muscles to aid in keeping our bowling ball upright and controlled.
The type of neck pain that you may experience will differ depending on the structures aforementioned. Joints can become subject to restrictions in movement, meaning that a certain direction can become difficult. An example would be if a joint were restricted towards turning to the left, then for you to be able to turn left the muscles in the neck would have to work extremely hard to bring you into this position. The muscles in our neck can often become a source of pain from overwork and strain. A trigger point is an irritated nodule within the muscle fibers and can often form in the longer muscles in our neck. These trigger points are often a source of pain and when quite severe can actually give you a headache.
Of course these are but a few examples of structures in the neck that can provide pain and restriction. There are many conditions and injuries affecting these structures that can give neck pain but it would take me all day to go into each specific condition in detail. Below is a list of common neck conditions that you may be aware of:
Cervicogenic Headache Brachial Plexopathy
Torticollis (Wry neck) Cervical Spondylosis
Whiplash Cervical Myelopathy
Osteoarthritis Postural Related Neck Pain
Cervical Disc Herniation Acute Muscle Strain
In the technological age it is hard to find someone who doesn’t use a computer. In fact if you are reading this, then you are more than likely using a computer right now. Postural related neck pain is a very common source of acute and chronic pain. Sitting and staring at a computer for long periods can create undue stress on the muscles in the neck which makes it harder to control our bowling ball.
What can you do about it? Here at Body of Life Health Centre we have an enthusiastic team of Osteopaths and Chiropractors who love necks. If you have/are experiencing any neck restrictions or pain don’t wait until it becomes a chronic issue. Call and make an appointment today so that we can help you keep that bowling ball where it needs to be!
Article written by Dr Michael Smith (Chiropractor)
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O’Riordan C, Clifford A, Van De Ven P, Nelson J (2014) Chronic Neck Pain and Exercise Interventions: Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type Principle. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2014;95:770-83