How common is neck pain?
Neck pain is a common problem, with approximately two-thirds of the population suffering from neck pain at some point in their lives (Binder 2007).
What are the causes of neck pain?
Acute neck pain, in cases of trauma like car accidents or sports injuries, is usually caused by a whiplash injury to the cervical region of the spine. Whiplash or whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) is the result of impulsive stretching of the spine due to a sudden, propulsive force directed to the patient’s back: this force causes the head and neck to snap backwards and then forwards. Symptoms of a whiplash-associated disorder include neck pain that may extend to the upper or lower back, pins and needles and/or numbness to the arms and fingers. Whiplash-associated disorders are graded from mild subjective pain and stiffness, to fracture, dislocation and injuries to the spinal cord.
Sometimes, there is no apparent cause of acute neck pain. For example, patients commonly complain of waking up with a stiff neck, a condition called Torticollis (wry neck). Torticollis is caused by muscle spasms in the neck that cause pain and severely limit the ranges of motion.
Chronic neck pain is often the result of muscle tension that is caused by prolonged sitting, poor working posture, poor circulation, and lack of exercise. Muscle tension develops in the upper back, shoulders and neck areas, which not only causes muscles to ache, but also restricts spinal joint movements. Over time, poor joint mechanics result in disc protrusion and osteoarthritis, which may cause nerve impingement.
Tension-type headaches are also commonly related to neck pain, as trigger points within the cervical musculature can cause referral pain to the head region.
What is the chiropractic treatment approach for neck pain?
- Reduce Pain - For both acute and chronic pain, the goal of treatment initially would be to reduce the pain, or to “break the pain cycle”. As the pain level is reduced, the muscles will relax, reversing the pain cycle
- Restore normal joint mechanics - Depending on the examination findings, your chiropractor will adjust (manipulate) the vertebral joints that are misaligned (subluxated). This may take place on the first treatment or on any subsequent treatments as deemed necessary.
- Improve flexibility and strength – To prevent future injuries, it is important to improve the flexibility of the joints and muscle strength. Your chiropractor will advise you on appropriate stretching and strengthening exercises according to your physical needs and fitness level.
- Lifestyle adjustments – Other factors like exercises, diet, working posture, sleep etc. may play a vital role in the development and otherwise prevention of neck pain. Your doctor will work with you to identify lifestyle adjustments that will help you maximize the quality of your health.
How effective is chiropractic treatment of neck pain?
Recent research has shown that chiropractic treatment for neck pain is effective from both a pain management and cost perspective. One study found that neck manipulation is more effective than traditional medical treatment methods.
Below are details about specific research related to chiropractic care for neck pain:
- “Neck manipulation, acupuncture and massage are better than most of the treatments most utilized by the traditional medical system. It was found that steroid injections, surgery and neck collars show little evidence of benefit.” The Bone & Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and its Associated Disorders: Executive Summary. Spine, February, 2008
- The Cost-effectiveness of Chiropractic for Back and Neck Pain. A Summary of two studies in JMPT, October 2005.
- Improvement After Chiropractic Care in Cervicocephalic Kinesthetic Sensibility and Subjective Pain Intensity in Patients with Nontraumatic Chronic Neck Pain Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT), February 2006.
Additional articles related to neck pain or neck pain research:
- The Chiropractic Resource Organization - Chiropractic and Chronic Neck Pain
What are the Recommended Treatments for Neck Pain?*
- Spinal manipulation - for restoration of joint movements
- Dry-needling - for pain relief and relaxing muscles
- Ultrasound Therapy - for reducing inflammation
- Interferential Current Therapy - for relaxing muscles and enhance circulation
- Shockwave Therapy - to speed up tissue healing
- Exercise Therapy - to restore normal function and flexibility
Author: Dr Claudia Ng, BSc, DC
* A proper diagnosis has to be obtained for all of the above conditions before an appropriate combination of treatments will be provided. This is just a list of possible treatments for the individual condition but not all of them may be necessary, nor is it limited to those listed only.
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