Minor neck aches, pain, and stiffness are something we all suffer from time to time. They are usually brought on by overwork or holding the head in an awkward position, such as sleeping upright in a chair. Fortunately, these are minor situations and clear up after a day of rest or a good nights sleep.
On the other hand, recurring aches, pains, and stiffness of the neck, or discomfort that lasts for more than twenty-four hours, should have professional evaluation. Persistent pain in the neck is a symptom of something gone wrong. Nerve irritations or "pinched nerves" are likely possibilities. Also, repeated episodes of stiff neck may indicate early stages of joint or disc degeneration.
The neck (cervical spine) contains the upper portion of the spinal cord and eight pairs of spinal nerves. The nerves of the cervical spine lead or are connected to almost all parts of the body. Nerve "pinch" or irritation in the neck can produce symptoms in various parts of the body. For example, pain between the shoulder blades and some arm complaints can originate in the neck.
In addition to pain and stiffness, symptoms that are all to commonly caused by irritation of the nerves within the neck can include: headache; pains in the face, ears, and scalp; dizziness; pain in the shoulder, arm, and hand; numbness and tingling in the fingers; throat discomfort; difficulty in breathing; chest pains. The neck is the most vulnerable part of the spinal column, subject to all sorts of major and minor injuries. It is composed of seven small bones (vertebrae) and supported by only muscles and ligaments which must hold and balance the head which weighs approximately ten pounds.
The neck is very susceptible to stresses and strains from any source and will often react violently to seemingly insignificant falls or accidents. According to some authorities, the neck is strained more frequently than any other structure in the body.
Common Causes Of Neck Strain:
- Bad posture - head thrust forward with chin pointed up.
- Overwork - continuing to work beyond endurance.
- Muscular weakness.
- Nervous and emotional tension.
- Underlying disease, such as arthritis.
- Accidents - falls or automobile "whiplash" injuries.
- Military-type posture.
The type of discomfort of pattern of pain sometimes serves as a clue to what is wrong. For example:
- A neck is relatively pain free in the morning and worsens as the day goes on, frequently indicates strain, fatigue or muscular weakness.
- The neck that is stiff and painful in the morning and feels better as the day goes on, may indicate some underlying disease such as arthritis.
- Neck pain that is aggravated by coughing or sneezing may indicate serious disc involvement.
- Dizziness, light-headedness, or pain that develops when the head is turned of elevated, is strong evidence of a possible vascular problem.
A person should never attempt to make a self diagnosis. Allow your doctor of chiropractic to determine what your needs are. His specialized examination procedure will aid in determining the exact nature of your neck problem.
Too often, a patient considers repeated episodes of stiff neck as something very minor and expects one office visit will correct the entire problem. Sometimes this may be true, but often the underlying cause of the discomfort is more serious.
Management of the overall problem of a neck disorder should be supervised by your chiropractor. The care of structural defects, a disorder process, cervical instability, ect., requires professional evaluation and supervision. This cannot be over-emphasized!
In addition to treatment for the specific condition, your doctor of chiropractic may very well recommend exercises to restore normal range of motion or to overcome muscular weakness, which can cause neck pain. Proper exercise will help greatly to alleviate aches, pains, tensions, and nerve irritations that may have developed as a result of strain, disease, injuries, or lack of use.
Weak muscles must struggle to get a person through the day, while well-toned muscles allow one to work and play without tiring. Exercising will develop more efficient muscles by improving muscular tone and strengthening the muscles connected to the cervical spine. Ask your doctor of chiropractic about specific muscle strengthening exercises.
Range of motion exercises, while not designed to strengthen muscles, are an excellent means of helping to restore the normal motion to the joints of the cervical spine. This is especially important if an arthritic type condition is present. The key to joint function is mobility, flexibility, and strength.
Once you neck problem has been brought under control, it is up to you to follow your doctor's advise on how to acquire a stronger neck, and how to avoid any further strain of the neck.