If you’re reading this you have probably asked yourself, “ Why does my neck hurt?” Maybe you have thought about seeing a chiropractor but you weren’t really sure. Chiropractors see patients who suffer from neck pain, stiff neck, sciatica, issues with the neck muscles, headache and many other ailments. You have probably searched for a stiff neck remedy which only resulted back to using muscle relaxers for neck pain. You could have neck pain from sleeping wrong, a pulled muscle in the neck, or…. Maybe there is another cause? Read on to learn the possible causes of your neck pain and how to get rid of neck pain.
What does the neck look like from inside
The structures of the neck are the most frequently used structures in our bodies. Even when we are sitting down to relax, our head is still being held up (more than likely in a bad posture). The neck has 4 general movements: flexion, extension, side bending (left and right) and rotation. With a slight natural curvature, the neck consists of the:
- Cervical Spine ( vertebrae C1-C7)
- Joints: between each segment and portions of each segment with each other (intervertebral, apophyseal, atlanto-occipital and atlanto-axial)
- Muscles: there are many small muscles that make up the neck generally referred to as flexors and extensors based on the action they perform
- Ligaments: (connect bone to bone) and tendons(connect muscle to bone)
With a heavy head balanced on top and our bad posture, our necks are very vulnerable to misalignment. Neck pain can be caused by a variety of things, especially think you may have never considered. An average head weighs about 12-15 lbs and the neck segments are designed to withstand that much weight at the proper alignment; this alignment is proper only when the opening hole in the ear lines up with the point on the outside of the shoulder girdle when looking from the side. The same head, when flexed forward to the point where most people look at their cellphone typically, puts about 60 lbs of pressure on these same structures. No wonder there are so many neck pain, headaches, pain between shoulder blades, and hunched back patients are seen daily these days. In my practice, that is the cause of most failed postures that impact the lives of many and as young as preteens!
Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain is typically related to postural imbalances from our sedentary lifestyles, increased use of technology and weak neck muscles. The muscles in our neck are smaller muscles whose job is to balance and move our head on top of our neck. These muscles face a serious challenge when we force them to hold our heads in an unnatural position, like looking downward at the laptop for an hour straight, looking down at our laptops, ipads, and phones. The term Tech neck is nothing new any more where over time, the extensor muscles on the back of your neck become overstretched, losing their elasticity and strength. These stabilizers no longer do a good enough job of stabilizing the neck so as expected, and just like any structure that is not stabilized well, there is downward spiral effect which typically starts with stiffness and escalates into a chronic nagging pain. Imagine a rubber band that you’ve used overstretched; after a while it won’t do a good job of holding because it’s too stretched out. Those extensor muscles, like your rubber band, are now weak. On the other end, the muscles in front of your neck, called flexors, are constantly in a shortened state and become hyperactive. The result of overstretched extensors and hyperactive flexors is a forward head posture. This is one example of what the road towards neck pain looks like.
Weekly I see a few patients that complain of waking up in the morning with a painful neck or wry neck. The video below is on this very subject but let’s say that it is not you putting your head the ‘wrong’ way that did it! Well, that may be the straw that broke the camels back but the cause of wry neck or Torticollis is weak neck muscles. The scenario is exactly the same way described in the above paragraph.
So if you sit at a desk, consistently use a laptop at home, or maybe your work requires you to be looking at your cell phone a lot, you may have this problem. A postural imbalance anywhere in your body is only the beginning of a series of unfortunate events. Here is a blog I wrote on how to fix your work environment and a checklist of things to do to at least minimize that damage.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this only applies to the upper body. Believe it or not, an imbalance in the lower extremities can also eventually result in neck pain! For example if you have an excessive curve in the lower back, your shoulders will push back (sticking your chest out) to prevent you from falling forward; with this military posture, either the neck stays forward because of you’re staring at the computer monitor or digital devices or will be super straight in the back because of excess contraction of the back of the neck muscles. Either way, the neck is not at its proper place and neck pain, headaches, tension between shoulder blades, and shoulder pain show up as the first series of pains and complaints.
All of the structures in our bodies are connected and movement is a result of these structures working together properly. If one area is not functioning properly, it throws everything else off. Health is in movement and movement is like a concert. Each musician knows its part and when given a chance, they know very well how to play their instrument. The concert, however, is all these musicians playing together. When one body part is off, just like a musician not doing the part right, the balance, movement and posture are impacted. Just as the whole outcome of the concert will be.
Prevention of Neck Pain
I am starting to see neck pain in patients at a younger and younger age. We can thank our dramatically increased use of handheld devices for that! The good news is, there are many simple things we can do to prevent it!
- Pick up your head! When you’re on your phone, keep your elbows tucked in at your side and hold the phone up to your head instead of flexing your head down toward the phone.
- Work environment evaluation: I always have my patients send me a picture of their work set-up to see if we need to adjust anything potential contributors. Here is a checklist of what to do; if you want to send me your pics. just email them to me.
- Pillow evaluation: I like to see not only what kind of pillow but how my patients use their pillows to sleep. YES, how you use your pillow is super important. Take a look at this!
- Stretches: Everyone is different. Depending on your story, there may be some appropriate stretches or poses you could do. Check out my YouTube channel for a list of stretching videos to better help you. I firmly practice Developmental Kinesiology and DNS for all stretching and strengthening needs. This is not the subject of this blog but you can read about it here.
- Posture: Ideal posture is so important in preventing pain and injury. It really is the best preventative measure. Just make sure your ideal posture isn’t puffing your chest out military style. To learn how in my practice, fundamentals of posture are utilized to rid of pain and address the cause, watch this video.
Neck Pain Treatment
Correction starts with realigning the spine as a whole, not just the cervical portion. Although adjustments are known to be highly successful in ridding neck and lower back pain, they alone will not fix the cause of your neck pain. Adjustment is a spark needed for the fire to keep you ‘warm and cozy’. Just because you have the spark does not mean you will have the fire!! What needs to happen to get the fire into flame and then fire is what we need to focus on.
When pain is present, all your brain wants is for you to be out of pain. So first pain needs to go away, so we can have the full focus of the brain when correcting the