Neck Pain Introduction
Neck pain comes in many guises. You might have chronic aches whilst sitting at your desk, you might wake up with a crick in your neck or you could have sharp shooting pains.
The great news is that most neck pain responds very well to chiropractic treatment, and it is the second most common condition treated at Worcester Chiropractic Clinic (after back pain).
Because neck pain can come in so many different forms, and because your neck is a complex part of your body, the single most important thing when treating neck pain is to perform a detailed examination.
Establishing an accurate diagnosis is essential for safe management of neck pain and also enables specific treatment, meaning you get out of pain more quickly.
Even though your neck is a delicate area of your body, most neck pain is not the result of any damage and treatment is usually very straightforward.
Types of Neck Pain
There are a vast number of structures within your neck that can cause pain. You can even get referred pain in your neck, although this is uncommon.
It is important to say that the overwhelming majority of neck pain is mechanical. This means that it involves your nerves, muscles or skeleton and is likely linked to your posture, activities or some kind of trauma.
Sinister causes of neck pain are very rare and are usually accompanied by other symptoms. They are also easily distinguished from mechanical problems on examination.
Traumatic Neck Pain
Traumatic neck pain, such as whiplash following a car crash, requires a specific approach to investigation before treatment.
First and foremost, significant injury must be excluded. This may require imaging, such as x-ray or MRI, particularly if you have a sudden inability to move or support your head.
In most instances, there is no visible damage to the neck. Fractures are rare and usually instantly recognisable, leading to hospitalisation at the scene of trauma.
Pain can occur immediately following trauma, or up to a month afterwards.
Dealing with traumatic neck pain quickly greatly improves long term outcomes. Seeking treatment as soon as you notice any discomfort following a recent trauma can prevent chronic pain setting in.
Manual therapy, such as that provided by chiropractors, and over the counter anti-inflammatories are the best methods for treating traumatic neck pain.
Manual therapy may include joint manipulation or mobilisation, soft-tissue release, dry-needling, muscle taping and more.
Rehabilitation is also an important component of care for traumatic neck pain.
Following a neck trauma, your brain will sometimes communicate differently with your muscles compared to before the trauma.
This altered muscle-brain communication is a significant contributor to pain and future degenerative changes.
Our chiropractors are trained to provide rehabilitation services as well as manual therapy and will usually combine these approaches for best effect.
Long-lasting Neck Pain
Long-lasting, or chronic, neck pain is the most common form of neck pain.
For neck pain to be considered chronic, it needs to bother you over a period of at least six weeks. This does not mean that pain needs to be continuous over this time-frame, and in most cases chronic neck pain comes and goes over a long period, rather than being constant.
Chronic neck pain can result from a number of different causes from day-to-day activities to posture, previous injury, anxiety and stress.
Taking the time to properly understand the physical, psychological and lifestyle factors involved in chronic pain is essential to achieving a good outcome.
We are very lucky at Worcester Chiropractic Clinic that, being an independent practice, we can completely control our appointment times and so ensure all relevant factors are taken into account.
Chronic neck pain generally responds very well to manual therapy, again using a combination of modalities, such as manipulation, mobilisation and soft-tissue techniques.
However, manual therapy is usually only part of the story as far as chronic neck pain is concerned.
For long-lasting relief, we will also help you tackle those underlying or associated factors.
We will achieve this by providing lifestyle advice, stress-management techniques, strengthening or mobilising exercises and so forth, as your situation requires.
Sudden Onset Neck Pain
Sudden onset neck pain can be a worrying symptom for many people.
The reality is that, unless you have suffered a major trauma immediately preceding your neck pain, there is almost certainly nothing to worry about.
Neck pain can come on suddenly for a number of reasons, but most causes involve your neck muscles or the joints in your spine.
For the majority of sudden onset neck pain patients, there will have been some preceding twinges or niggles.
But for some patients neck pain can occur totally out of the blue, with no warning signs.
In either instance, your chiropractor will be able to assess you to tell you what is happening in your neck to cause your pain.
Sudden onset neck pain, being muscular or skeletal in origin, responds very well to chiropractic treatment, with many patients getting relief from the first visit.
If you have any minor niggles in your neck, don’t ignore these as they could be a precursor to a more severe neck pain event that can be prevented.
Neck Pain Advice
The following advice should not replace seeing a chiropractor if you have neck pain. Examination followed by appropriate treatment and rehabilitation will always be helpful if you have neck pain, relieving current symptoms but also helping prevent recurrence.
Advice also needs to be specific for best effect, so please seek a chiropractic opinion at the same time as trying the following.
- Ice packs – When applied for 20 minutes, ice packs provide an anti-inflammatory effect. This is particularly useful when you have sudden onset or traumatic onset neck pain. Take an hour’s gap between applications and always keep a layer of cloth between your skin and the ice pack.
- Shoulder strengthening – Particularly useful for chronic neck pain or neck pain where posture is a significant factor. YTWs and deltoid raises (Google will show you what to do) are great starter exercises.
- Chest stretching – Stretching your chest (pectoral) muscles for 20-30 seconds a few times a day can be really helpful, especially if you are at a desk or driving for a large part of the day.
- Magnesium oil – Where your neck muscles just won’t relax, perhaps because of stress or tension, magnesium oil can bring a benefit. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant. You can buy it as a spray-on oil that you rub into the tense muscles.
- Abdominal breathing – When you inhale, your chest should stay still and your neck relaxed. This is because your diaphragm is doing the work. But for many people the reverse is true, leading to fatigue and soreness in the neck muscles. There are lots of techniques for coaching abdominal breathing, have a look online for the one that suits you best.
- Stress relief – Stress is a major factor in many cases of chronic neck pain. You can’t always get rid of stress, but you can change how it affects your body. General exercise, but particularly intense exercise, is the best stress-buster on the planet and essentially presses a physiological reset button, relieving tension in the neck muscles.
- Neck strengthening – Having more muscle protects your neck from injury, but you should only exercise your neck This means applying force, but not moving. Try lying on your back and pushing your head into the floor. Your neck isn’t moving, but you are engaging your neck muscles. 10 second repetitions is ideal.
- Massage – You don’t need to fork out on massages all the time, save them as a treat. But using your own hands, special contraptions or asking a friend/partner to massage your neck and shoulder muscles can provide temporary relief of neck pain.
- Topical gels – Hot and cold rubs act by competing with pain signals. Your brain can only receive a certain amount of information from one area of your body at any one time, so hot or cold gels can drown out pain.